Saturday, December 15, 2012

Geminid meteor shower and other space and astronomy news

Time for the past week's space and astronomy stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Doha climate talks conclude edition) at Daily Kos.  First, an event that is still happening, just barely. via Scientific American: A "Gem" of a Meteor Shower Is Coming up Next Week
The Geminid Meteor Shower offers stargazers a host of slow, bright fireballs and lasts for two to three days
By Joe Rao and
December 7, 2012
If you were disappointed with the meager showing put on by this year's Leonid Meteor Shower, don't fret.  What potentially will be the best meteor display of the year is just around the corner, scheduled to reach its peak on Thursday night, Dec. 13: the Geminid Meteors.

The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, the Twins.  On the night of this shower's maximum the meteors will appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

The Geminid Meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August. Studies of past displays show that this shower has a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness. Geminids typically encounter Earth at 22 miles per second (35 kilometers per second), roughly half the speed of a Leonid meteor. Many appear yellowish in hue. Some even appear to travel jagged or divided paths.
More stories over the jump.

NASA Television on YouTube: New Rover to Mars on This Week @NASA

NASA will launch a new rover to Mars in 2020. That plan was among the science news NASA made at the 2012 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Also, Voyager 1 travels "magnetic highway"; Van Allen Probes reveal structures and dynamics in Earth's radiation belts; Kelly and Kornienko on mission; new ISS crew; astro Joe goes social; Curious in Times Square; fainting booms; Climate Day; and, more!
BBC: Nasa camera captures 'fire-ball' over Texas
8 December 2012 Last updated at 13:35 ET
Video footage of a "fire-ball" flashing in the sky over Texas has been captured by a Nasa camera.

The camera picked up the flash from Nasa's Meteoroid Environment Office in New Mexico. It was reported to have been seen from as far away as Houston and Louisiana.

Nasa believes that a meteor entered earth's atmosphere somewhere between Dallas and Houston. It has tracked fragments of it which fell to Earth north of Houston.
NASA: NASA-NOAA Satellite Reveals New Views of Earth at Night
Scientists unveiled today an unprecedented new look at our planet at night. A global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across the planet in greater detail than ever before.
Science News: Voyager crossing superhighway to solar system exit
Latest frontier may be last before spacecraft reaches interstellar space
By Tanya Lewis
Web edition: December 4, 2012
On its way out of the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has encountered a “magnetic highway” of charged particles — a hint that the spacecraft may not have far to go before reaching the brink of interstellar space.

This so-called highway lies where the sun’s magnetic field and the interstellar magnetic field meet. Particles blown outward by the solar wind are speeding in one direction, while particles from cosmic rays generated outside the solar system are racing inward.

“This was a major unexpected result,” Voyager scientist Stamatios Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said in a December 3 teleconference hosted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Voyager has surprised us.”
Science News: Mars rover deploys final instrument
Soil analysis finds organic compounds of uncertain origin
By Alexandra Witze
Web edition: December 3, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — It took more than three months, but NASA’s Curiosity rover has sent back its first complete tests of Mars’ windswept soil. In it, mission scientists have spotted chemical compounds that include chlorine, hydrogen and, tantalizingly, carbon.

Organic compounds contain carbon and are sometimes associated with life. But scientists can’t say yet whether the carbon Curiosity detected came from Mars or was carried from Earth by the rover.

Curiosity also found that the Martian surface is five times richer than Earth’s in deuterium, a heavy version of hydrogen that contains an extra neutron. Radiation probably blasted water containing the lighter version of hydrogen into space early in the planet’s history, mission scientists reported December 3 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Reuters: NASA aims to launch Mars rover twin in 2020
By Irene Klotz
Tue Dec 4, 2012 9:11pm EST
SAN FRANCISCO - NASA plans to follow up its Mars rover Curiosity mission with a duplicate rover that could collect and store samples for return to Earth, the agency's lead scientist said on Tuesday.

The new rover will use spare parts and engineering models developed for Curiosity, which is four months into a planned $2.5 billion mission on Mars to look for habitats that could have supported microbial life.

Replicating the rover's chassis, sky-crane landing system and other gear will enable NASA to cut the cost of the new mission to about $1.5 billion including launch costs, John Grunsfeld, the U.S. space agency's associate administrator for science, said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.
Science News on Vimeo: Gravity survey reveals churned-up layers just beneath moon’s surface

A detailed map of the moon’s gravity reveals variations across the lunar surface. The map shows huge rings around impact craters (red represents areas of high mass concentration; blue, low mass).
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Science News: Violent past revealed by map of moon's interior
Gravity survey reveals churned-up layers just beneath lunar surface
By Alexandra Witze
Web edition: December 6, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — The moon is cooling and shrinking today, but early in its history it actually got bigger, scientists have found.

As the moon expanded, molten rock rose from its deep interior to cool and solidify into long gashes buried beneath the surface. For billions of years these fiery scars remained hidden, finally revealing themselves to a pair of spacecraft flying overhead.

The probes, named Ebb and Flow, spotted the rock formations by their gravitational pull. And not just that: the NASA mission has revealed a host of other discoveries, both on the moon’s surface and below it. In producing the best gravity map ever compiled of any planet or moon — Earth included — the mission illustrates how violently the moon’s crust was pummeled by meteorites over eons.
Science News: Extraterrestrial chorus heard in radiation belts
Van Allen probes capture sound of electromagnetic disturbances
By Alexandra Witze
Web edition: December 5, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — Is it alien birds singing alongside crickets? Or the sound of radio waves sweeping through Earth’s magnetosphere? A recently released recording is a little bit of both.

The soundtrack captures “chorus” waves, electromagnetic disturbances that ripple through belts of charged particles that surround Earth. The chorus becomes audible to the human ear when translated into sound waves, as heard in a recording made by space physicists at the University of Iowa.

Ham radio operators have known about this chorus for decades, but scientists now have a lot more data on it thanks to a pair of satellites known as the Van Allen probes. NASA launched them in August to fly through and study Earth’s two main radiation belts, called the Van Allen belts — an inner one made mostly of protons and an outer one made mostly of electrons. The electronics on most spacecraft get fried if they spend too much time in these belts, but the Van Allen probes are built with components that won’t fritz out when charged particles hit them.
Reuters: SpaceX lands first U.S. military launch contracts
By Irene Klotz
Wed Dec 5, 2012 7:13pm EST
SAN FRANCISCO - Startup rocket company Space Exploration Technologies, which flies NASA cargo to the International Space Station, has landed its first launch contracts for the U.S. military, the company said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Air Force will pay $97 million for a Falcon 9 rocket to launch in 2014 the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a solar telescope that will be operated by NASA. It will also pay $165 million for a Falcon Heavy rocket for the military's Space Test Program-2 satellite, which is expected to fly in 2015.

Both spacecraft will be launched from Space Exploration Technologies' Cape Canaveral, Florida, site.
Reuters: Private firm plans "affordable" lunar mission for $1.5 billion
By Irene Klotz
Fri Dec 7, 2012 12:29am EST
SAN FRANCISCO - A Colorado start-up run by former NASA managers plans to conduct missions to the moon for about $1.5 billion per expedition, a fraction of what a similar government-run operation would cost, company officials said on Thursday.

"Our vision is to create a reliable and affordable U.S.-based commercial human lunar transportation system," said former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin, who serves as chairman of the firm, named Golden Spike.

The expeditions would use existing rockets and spacecraft now under development to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

Depending on how many customers sign up, the company said it could be ready to fly its first mission by 2020. It did not elaborate on any existing or pending contracts with customers or suppliers.
This story was the lead topic in This week in science: To the moon! by DarkSyde on Daily Kos.

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