Friday, May 24, 2013

Explosion on Moon and other space and astronomy news

In WXYZ previews a coming attraction: Meteor impact on Moon, I made a promise.
One of the stories that I will be using in this week's space and astronomy news will be the largest lunar impact ever recorded by NASA.
Here's the video from NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Bright Explosion on the Moon.

NASA researchers who monitor the Moon for meteoroid impacts have detected the brightest explosion in the history of their program.
More stories over the jump.

NASA Television on YouTube: Kepler Update on This Week @NASA

This week, the Kepler science team announced the spacecraft was in a Thruster-Controlled Safe Mode. The root cause was undetermined but the proximate cause appears to be an attitude error caused by a malfunction in Kepler's reaction wheel 4, one of the telescope's pointing mechanisms. The team has since put the telescope in what's known as a Point Rest State, to minimize fuel usage while the investigation continues. Though no decisions have been made about the fate of the mission, the team notes that even if data collection were to end, Kepler has collected substantial quantities of data that should yield a string of scientific discoveries for years to come. Also, Living Off Earth, Future of Human Space Exploration, Garver briefed on Future Technologies, J-2X prepared for gimbal tests, Bolden checks out Aero Tech, Dreamchaser's arrival, Hangout with Star Trek cast and more!
DarkSyde on Daily Kos has more general space and science news in This week in science: Common census.

NASA Television on YouTube: Expedition 35 Back Home Safely on This Week @NASA

The Expedition 35 crew safely returned from the International Space Station with a parachute-assisted landing of its Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan on May 14, local time. Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency, Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn capped off 146-days in space full of activity -- for Marshburn -- some of it just hours before the crew departed. On May 11, he and fellow NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy completed a 5-hour, 30-minute spacewalk to replace a faulty coolant pump on the station's P6 truss and during a NASA TV in-flight event on May 7, Marshburn discussed the work being done on the International Space Station with members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space. Also, Next ISS Crew Focused on Launch, Humans 2 Mars, 40th Anniversary of Skylab, Curiosity Rover Update, Landsat's Vegas Time-Lapse, Fruit Flies Improving Flight, Student Launch Projects and more!
Jen Hayden on Daily Kos has another take on Expedition 35's commander in Astronaut Chris Hadfield covers Bowie's 'Space Oddity' in space (VIDEO).

Nature (UK): Magnetar found at giant black hole
Magnetized neutron star could test Einstein’s theory.
Eugenie Samuel Reich
14 May 2013
Dale Frail couldn’t resist the prospect of watching a black hole swallow its prey. Frail, who is in charge of the Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes near Socorro in New Mexico, had seen a report last month about a long-lived X-ray flare emanating from the centre of the Milky Way, home to a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). Astronomers were speculating that the flare might be a sign that a gas cloud they had been tracking had begun its death spiral into the black hole.

Frail was sceptical. The cloud’s death was not expected until between September this year and March 2014. But Frail did not want to risk missing the action. Within hours of seeing the report, he had trained the VLA’s radio dishes on the scene, only to find nothing remarkable. Frail was puzzled. If the flare wasn’t the arrival of the gas cloud, what was it?

An answer soon came from other tele­scopes watching the drama at the centre of the Galaxy: the flare was coming from a magnetar, a highly magnetized kind of pulsar, or rotating neutron star. Its position near Sgr A* makes it a precious find. The magnetar’s regular radio pulses could be used to measure the warping of space-time near the monster black hole and to test predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Time Magazine: Trouble in Deep Space: Wheel Malfunction Threatens Kepler Telescope’s Future
By Michael D. Lemonick
May 16, 2013
At this time last year, the scientists working on Kepler, NASA’s fantastically successful planet-hunting space telescope, were ecstatic. The probe, launched in 2009, had originally been given just three and a half years’ worth of funding, but in April, 2012, the space agency decided to extend the mission by another 3.5 years. With nearly 3,000 candidate planets in the bag already, astronomers were anticipating a boatload of even more exciting discoveries.

Not so much anymore. Last Sunday, the spacecraft’s aim began to drift, sending Kepler into “safe mode” while engineers tried to figure out why. The potentially fatal diagnosis: one of the probe’s reaction wheels, crucial for holding Kepler on target, had stopped working. And if the telescope can’t stay on target, the mission is effectively over. “Unfortunately,” said John Grunsfeld, the scientist- astronaut who helped refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope during a 2009 spacewalk, during a NASA press conference, “Kepler is not in a place where I can go up and repair it.”

That doesn’t mean engineers are quite ready to give up.
Troubadour on Daily Kos gets the honor of the final story with Getting to Know Your Solar System (33): Dione.

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