Thursday, March 20, 2014

Space news for the Vernal Equinox

Today is the Vernal or Spring Equinox.  To mark the occasion, I'm promoting a news item that doesn't move into the featured spot.

University of Massachusetts: UMass Amherst Sunwheel and Sky-Watching Events Mark the Spring Equinox on March 20
March 12, 2014
AMHERST, Mass. – The public is invited to witness sunrise and sunset associated with the spring equinox among the standing stones of the UMass Amherst Sunwheel on Thursday, March 20 at 6:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. These Sunwheel events mark the astronomical change of seasons when days and nights are nearly equal in length.

At the gatherings, which have attracted more than 10,000 visitors over the past 17 years, local Sunwheel enthusiasts Michelle and Andy Morris-Friedman will discuss the astronomical cause of the sun’s changing position during the hour-long gatherings. They will also explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, phases of the moon, building the Sunwheel, and answer questions about astronomy.

The exact time of the vernal equinox this year is 12:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. This ushers in the beginning of spring and is also the day the sun rises into the sky to be visible for six months as seen from the North Pole, and the day it sets for six months as seen from the South Pole.
Happy Equinox!

Follow over the jump for the rest of last week's space news.

NASA: NASA Administrator Checks Out SLS Flight Avionics on This Week @NASA

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden visited Marshall Space Flight Center to see work being done on the avionics and flight software for NASA's Space Launch System rocket. Marshall's System Integration Lab conducts flight simulations of the avionics system -- including hardware, software and operating systems -- that will guide the launch vehicle, to see how the SLS will perform during launch. Also, Dream Chaser agreement expanded, ISS crew returns safely, Senate Youth Program, More high marks for Morpheus, Asteroid Data Hunter challenge, SXSW Interactive and more!
JPL/NASA: Cassini: Coming Attractions at Saturn

What incredible things will the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn see and do over the next few years? Here's a preview. 'Cosmos' Honored In Space With Experiment | Video

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the host of the re-envisioned show, introduces a zero-gravity demonstration of Newton's third law of motion. Expedition 38's Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata prove the law aboard the International Space Station.
This concludes the news that moves.  Now for the text items from the farthest reaches of the Solar System to the surface of the Earth.

Penn State: WISE Satellite finds no evidence for Planet X in survey of the sky
March 7, 2014
After searching hundreds of millions of objects across the sky, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the hypothesized celestial body in our solar system commonly called "Planet X," according to published scientific papers including a new study in The Astrophysical Journal authored by Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University. "The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas-giant planet, or a small companion star," said Luhman, who is an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State.

Researchers previously had theorized about the existence of a large, but unseen, celestial body suspected to exist somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. In addition to "Planet X," the body had other nicknames, including "Nemesis" and "Tyche." Luhman's recent study, which involved an examination of WISE data covering the entire sky in infrared light, found that no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (au), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 au. One astronomical unit equals 93 million miles. Earth's distance from the Sun is 1 au, and Pluto's is about 40 au.

But searches of the WISE data are not coming up empty. They reveal several thousand new stars and cool bodies called brown dwarfs that are in our Sun's "backyard" but outside our solar system. "Neighboring star systems that have been hiding in plain sight just jump out in the WISE data," said Ned Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles, the principal investigator of the WISE mission.
Astronomy and physics aren't the only science pursued in space.  I found two stories about chemistry and biology experiments on the ISS.

University of Alabama at Birmingham: New study of proteins in space could yield better understanding, new drug development, in addition to future scientists
Written by  Nicole Wyatt
March 07, 2014
Innovative methods of drug discovery do not always take place in an academic laboratory. They may start there, but they can also happen in orbit aboard the International Space Station, as protein crystallization research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham is about to demonstrate once again.

“The human body contains many proteins known to be involved in a number of diseases,” said Lawrence DeLucas, O.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering. “Understanding the atomic structure and function of a protein allows scientists to begin development on compounds that can interact with the protein and subsequently regulate its function.”

In order to determine the structure of a protein, the researcher must experiment with solutions that allow the protein to form crystals. Research has shown that many proteins flown in space demonstrated the propensity to grow crystals with an increased size and quality compared to crystals grown in a lab on Earth.
University of Florida: UF/IFAS scientists to conduct experiment on plants in space
March 11th, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two University of Florida scientists will go to Kennedy Space Center March 16-30 for the launch of the SpaceX-3 Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, to send up and then monitor an experiment designed to help them understand biological functions in space.

These experiments are important queries into the concepts of where life can exist in the universe and what it takes to survive in space for longer periods of time.

After turning their samples over to SpaceX for launch, the researchers will travel to Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to remotely operate the Light Microscopy Module – an ISS research facility that allows scientists to conduct their experiments telemetrically from the ground.

Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul, faculty members in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ horticultural sciences department, will explore how spaceflight affects cells by examining how plants grow without gravity.
Finally, not everything about space is science and technology.  Sometimes, a little salesmanship is involved, too.

Southern Illinois University: SIU alumus to discuss marketing the moon
by Christi Mathis
March 14, 2014
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Richard Jurek, a two-degree Southern Illinois University Carbondale alumnus and space artifact collector, returns in early April to discuss the marketing behind the Apollo program.

Jurek, a marketing and public relations executive, will talk at 5 p.m. on April 2 at Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium.  He will discuss “Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program,” a book Jurek co-authored with David Meerman Scott.  The MIT Press is publishing the book that explores how astronauts, rocket scientists, defense contractors, space enthusiasts and even the flavored-drink mix Tang played roles in one of the most successful marketing and public relations campaigns in history.

The book is already set for a second printing due to pre-release sales and Jurek’s presentation will essentially serve as the launch event for the book.
That's it for the week's space news.  Once again, enjoy the Equinox.  For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is coming, if it isn't here already.

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