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Posts by petuniasevan

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  • Is Roy Spencer the World’s Most Important Scientist?

    05/12/2013 6:14:36 PM PDT · 14 of 14
    petuniasevan to 2ndDivisionVet

    Again: every time I see posts about Global Warming/Climate Change/Insert Scary-Sounding Term Here, no matter whether pro or con, I have to mention the most ABUNDANT most POWERFUL greenhouse gas there is in the Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike CO2, it’s not a tiny fraction of a percent but varies from very low to saturation. Yes, it’s good old H2O, in water vapor form.

    Humid locations hold in more heat than dry ones, all else being equal. Of course, some so-called scientists point to Venus. Do they forget that Venus is not only closer to the Sun but its atmosphere is mostly CO2? Not a tiny percentage. Very different mechanisms, very different outcome.

    As for Earth and its trends, I invite you to google “hockey stick climate graphs” and see what comes up. Funny how a trend can magnify if you don’t extend it so the whole picture is visible. What, 5000 years ago it was warmer than it is now? Gotta hide that from the public.

    Does climate change over time? Of course. Are the doomsayers a front for those seeking power? Certainly. As always, follow the money.

  • Just to mention a good outcome:

    05/12/2013 5:29:40 PM PDT · 1 of 4
  • I am back!

    11/11/2012 6:37:48 AM PST · 50 of 61
    petuniasevan to All

    I’m the one who originally started posting the Astronomy Picture of the Day on the forums; I’m glad to see someone else picked up the baton when I left for my extended hiatus.

  • I am back!

    11/11/2012 6:33:41 AM PST · 49 of 61
    petuniasevan to All

    See above.

  • I am back!

    11/11/2012 5:53:49 AM PST · 48 of 61
    petuniasevan to petuniasevan

    PS. A lot of these names here ring a bell; good to see the old guard is still alive and posting.

    I have spent now 12 years in a union workplace. I am consistently surprised at the number of people who automatically swallow the union line......but there are quite a few who think for themselves in spite of the barrage of propaganda and distortions.

  • I am back!

    11/11/2012 5:44:39 AM PST · 47 of 61

    Ok folks: first of all I’m a she not a he. Second, no I did NOT spend time behind bars :P
    The hobby in question was my overwhelming addiction to online video games (and I do still play). I let it take over my life for quite a long time... but the advantage was I quit spending money on almost everything else, and the games cost nothing near what other forms of entertainment do.

    And thanks to all who welcomed me back.

  • I am back!

    11/10/2012 3:55:50 PM PST · 1 of 61
  • Thank You Jim Robinson and John Robinson for Free Republic! We could not have won without you!

    11/03/2004 6:11:35 PM PST · 252 of 279
    petuniasevan to Jim Robinson; John Robinson

    Yes, a VERY big THANK YOU to both of you----your hard work has given us such a powerful platform for conservative political discourse, and a tool to combat socialism in all its varied forms.

    There is little doubt why the leftists want to tax (and otherwise regulate) the Internet. They can't seem to make it into their tame mouthpiece. Darn!

    Again, Jim and John ---- thanks to both of you for your continued dedication to this the greatest of all websites.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 11-03-04

    11/03/2004 3:46:00 AM PST · 4 of 22
    petuniasevan to exmoor

    Don't know about that, but the Moon is looking like prime real estate for him and his followers right now.


  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 11-03-04

    11/03/2004 3:37:46 AM PST · 2 of 22
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 11-03-04

    11/03/2004 3:36:56 AM PST · 1 of 22
    On a different subject.... 4 MORE YEARS!

    Mt Stromlo opens to public
    as re-build begins

    Posted: November 1, 2004


    Situated 6 miles west of Canberra, Australia, Mount Stromlo's historic observatory was gutted by ferocious bushfires on January 18th, 2003. This image from 21 months ago shows the extent of the damage to one of the major domes.

    Image credit: ANU / Mt Stromlo

    A new page is set to be written in Australian scientific history with the establishment of new buildings at Mt Stromlo Observatory.

    Staff at the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics are celebrating not just the commencement of the $36 million first stage of the historic observatory's redevelopment; but also the announcement that the site re-opened to the public on Saturday, 30th October 2004, with self-guided tours of the site and a night sky viewing program.

    "After getting an average of 70,000 visitors per year and conducting some of the world's leading astronomical research from Mt Stromlo, the fires of January 2003 were a huge blow not just for our staff, but for the global astronomical community," the Research School's Director, Professor Penny Sackett, said.

    "Now, 21 months after the fire, it is really exciting to commence construction of the first stage of the new Stromlo. This stage will involve the construction of an Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, the rebuild of a destroyed multi-million dollar optical instrument and the construction of a new telescope. Plans for the second stage of redevelopment are already well advanced.

    "A huge volume of work has preceded this moment. Plans for each building have had to comply with heritage considerations and with much data about the history of the site lost in the fires, that process has taken quite a lot of time.

    "We are also hopeful that insurance issues will be settled soon, enabling us to plan for the full redevelopment of the Observatory.

    "It is vital to recognise that despite the fires and subsequent delays in reconstruction, Mt Stromlo has continued to be a major international centre for astronomical research. Our staff have used telescopes at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran and other telescopes around the world for their research and continue to make some of the most exciting discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics."

    The 2003 fires destroyed a superbly-equipped workshop complex, seven houses, five telescopes and a historic administration building. Demolition of parts of several buildings was allowed to commence in August after permission was granted by the Department of Environment and Heritage and the National Capital Authority, pending final approval of the redevelopment plan. The demolition process has now made the site safe for public access.

    "It is fantastic to once more be able to welcome the public back to Mt Stromlo. We weren't able to make the site safe for public visits until demolition and reconstruction plans were approved. The commencement of our night viewing program on Saturday marks an important milestone in our recovery, allowing the public to experience some of the same excitement about the Universe that we feel in our daily work at the Observatory."

    Funding for the redevelopment will come from a Federal Government grant, donations and partial payments from insurance companies. Money donated by the public will be used to fund domes that will house small telescopes for public viewing of the night sky, one of which is a historic telescope salvaged from the heritage Commonwealth Solar Observatory building.

    The key ingredients of the first stage of redevelopment are:

    • The Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre, which will replace the workshops destroyed in the blaze, offering expanded design, manufacturing and testing capabilities for precision optical instruments, opportunities for higher degree student participation in technical projects, and a research and development program focusing on Extremely Large Telescopes.
    • The world's fastest sky-mapping telescope, the SkyMapper, to be installed at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory, but controlled from Mt Stromlo through an ultra-fast broadband link. SkyMapper will complete the first digital all-sky map of the Southern Sky.
    • The $6 million Near-infrared Integral-Field Spectrograph, being rebuilt for the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii in partnership with Auspace.
    Construction of Stage Two will commence as further insurance money is received in compensation for the fires. ANU is still in active discussions with three insurers over full payment for damage of Mt Stromlo.

    Mt Stromlo will be open to the public every Wednesday to Sunday between 10am-5pm. Saturday night sky viewing (Saturday Stargazing) commenced on Saturday, 30th October.

  • LIVE THREAD: 2004 Presidential Election Results

    11/02/2004 8:29:00 PM PST · 6,235 of 12,515
    petuniasevan to blondee123

    For the uninformed: al baby is just having fun with you --- sarcasm it's called. He's no lib.

  • LIVE THREAD: 2004 Presidential Election Results

    11/02/2004 7:15:34 PM PST · 4,579 of 12,515
    petuniasevan to Aquinasfan
    But there's something especially satisying in going to work tomorrow and watching the Dems cry in their beer

    Yep I work in one of those union shops---so tempted to take a little tape recorder with me to work tomorrow to record some of the abysmally stupid/ignorant/usefulidiotic rants I am sure to overhear from the Kerry Kneepad Kamp.

  • LIVE THREAD: 2004 Presidential Election Results

    11/02/2004 6:15:21 PM PST · 3,096 of 12,515
    petuniasevan to ChadGore

    Hehe shades of Gore!

  • LIVE THREAD: 2004 Presidential Election Results

    11/02/2004 6:13:32 PM PST · 3,055 of 12,515
    petuniasevan to lawgirl

    Did my part -- so did poorman and my mother -- gotta counteract the union puke votes from my workplace.

    Please everyone in those states that still have open polls --- VOTE!

    You may have NO IDEA how nasty and violent the Dem/union shills are...I got my reminders in the break room today. One real loser was even advocating sedition against the US government. Wanted to find a way to get Euros into this country to kidnap and "disappear" the President, take over, and then install their own candidate. This without benefit of an alcoholic stupor!

    Lots of nuts out there!

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 11-02-04

    11/02/2004 3:22:34 AM PST · 2 of 16
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 11-02-04

    11/02/2004 3:17:14 AM PST · 1 of 16
    Pit chains hint at recent marsquakes on red planet
    Posted: October 29, 2004

    Strings of depressions dotting the Martian landscape indicate that seismic activity - marsquakes - may still be reshaping the surface of the planet, according to Dr. David Ferrill of Southwest Research Institute in a paper published in GSA Today. These pit chains occur along dilational faults, partially filled or open cavities that served as conduits for past groundwater flow.

    "These faults could now serve as reservoirs for water or ice, making these locations of potentially great interest to the scientific community searching for signs of life on Mars," said Ferrill, a senior program manager at SwRI.

    "Astrobiologists consider subsurface aquifer systems high-priority targets for a potential Martian fossil record," said Danielle Wyrick, an SwRI planetary geologist who co-authored the GSA Today article. "Detecting underground water is difficult because current Mars data show only the surface. Pit chains are easy-to-recognize features that give us clues to what’s going on below the surface, including prospective groundwater systems."

    This image from the THEMIS instrument on the Odyssey spacecraft shows details of normal faults and a pit chain on the surface of Mars.
    Ferrill, Wyrick and their team reached these conclusions after comparing high-resolution imagery of the surface of Mars with pit chains discovered in Iceland, and conducting laboratory experiments to recreate the processes they believe formed the pit chains. The work was funded internally through an SwRI initiative directed to Mars research.

    "The pit craters are larger and better preserved on Mars than on Earth because the surface erosion and higher gravity on Earth result in smaller pits that are rapidly erased, sometimes within decades," said Ferrill. In many areas of Mars, pit crater chains appear to be some of the youngest features, postdating drainage channels, faulting and impact craters. Using visible spectrum image data of Mars from the Thermal Emission Imaging System on the Odyssey spacecraft, the team mapped pit crater outlines, surface drainage channels and fault traces. Pit craters can be observed at all stages of formation. The smallest pits have apparently flat floors with surface textures similar to the surrounding topographic surface; the steeper pit walls are smooth.

    "We deduce that some of these pits are youthful, perhaps even actively forming, because surface subsidence has not destroyed the original surface of in-falling material," explained Ferrill. Laboratory physical analog modeling also supports these observations. Based on analysis of Mars data, scientists simulated slip on a normal fault using unconsolidated dry white or dyed sand to represent Mars surface materials. Constant thickness rigid wooden or aluminum plates, with or without an overlying layer of cohesive powder, represented dilating fissures beneath the sand. Scientists initially placed the plates edge-to-edge and created tabular voids by progressively separating the plates to simulate fault slip. "Our physical models reproduced most pit chain morphologies observed on Mars," said Ferrill.

    SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 2,800 employees and an annual research volume of more than $350 million.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-28-04

    10/28/2004 3:18:38 AM PDT · 2 of 9
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-28-04

    10/28/2004 3:15:18 AM PDT · 1 of 9
    Scientists elated by Cassini's Titan observations
    Posted: October 27, 2004

    PASADENA, Calif. - After years of anticipation, the Cassini spacecraft beamed back smog-piercing close-up images of Saturn's moon Titan late Tuesday, revealing a strange, striated landscape that both thrilled - and mystified - planetary scientists.

    This image taken by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer clearly shows surface features on Titan. It is a composite of false-color images taken at three infrared wavelengths: 2 microns (blue); 2.7 microns (red); and 5 microns (green). A methane cloud can be seen at the south pole (top of image). This picture was obtained as Cassini flew by Titan at altitudes ranging from 100,000 to 140,000 kilometers (88,000 to 63,000 miles), less than two hours before the spacecraft's closest approach. The inset picture shows the landing site of Cassini's piggybacked Huygens probe. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
    Download larger image version here

    The initial images, discussed at a news conference today, show sharply defined bright and dark regions that may be blanketed by a thin layer of transparent or translucent material that presumably settled out of the atmosphere or was deposited by some other transport mechanism.

    Other than a 600-mile-wide formation near the south pole, few clouds are present and no large craters are apparent, indicating tectonic, volcanic or depositional processes are at work that have resurfaced the moon on a global scale.

    But so far, there is no evidence of lakes or pools of liquid ethane and similar materials that many scientists believe must be present given the moon's ultra-low temperature, high atmospheric pressure and hydrocarbon chemistry.

    In short, Titan's mysteries withstood Cassini's initial scientific assault.

    "We've been saying for a long time now that Titan was the largest expanse of unexplored terrain in the solar system," said imaging team leader Carolyn Porco, a leading expert on Saturn's rings. "And what remains hidden under the atmosphere and under the haze, the conditions at its surface, its geological history and so on are, at least in my mind, the solar system's last great mystery."

    Even though Cassini's cameras operated flawlessly and even though conditions were optimal for imaging, "I have to report that we are still mystified and we are not quite sure what we're looking at," Porco said. "There isn't much we are absolutely, definitively confident about right now."

    She might as well have paraphrased Winston Churchill's 1939 comment about the former Soviet Union: "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

    Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in June after a seven-year voyage from Earth. The $3 billion spacecraft made its first of 45 planned flybys of Titan late Tuesday, streaking past the cloudy moon at an altitude of just 745 miles. Using filters to peer through the hydrocarbon haze that blankets the satellite, Cassini snapped dozens of pictures that raised as many questions as they answered.

    "This image has been processed, it's been sharpened, it's been contrast enhanced and there it is," Porco said, displaying one such photo. "We don't know exactly what we're looking at. There are sharp boundaries between the dark regions and the bright regions, there ... are white things that stick out, they kind of look like islands sticking out of the dark material.

    "But frankly, there is no topography in our images," she said. "We do not see shadows on the surface of Titan. And because we don't see shadows, we can't look at an image like this and immediately deduce topographic information, what's up and what's down. Everything here ... could be perfectly flat. Maybe what we're seeing is just bright material, dark material, all at the same level. But we don't know."

    Radar data from Cassini will help fill in many of those blanks and researchers plan to present their initial findings Thursday. Scientists said the first processed image was spectacular.

    This image shows Titan in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. It was taken by Cassini's imaging science subsystem on Oct. 26 and is constructed from four images acquired through different color filters. Red and green colors represent infrared wavelengths and show areas where atmospheric methane absorbs light. These colors reveal a brighter (redder) northern hemisphere. Blue represents ultraviolet wavelengths and shows the high atmosphere and detached hazes. Titan has a gigantic atmosphere, extending hundreds of kilometers above the surface. The sharp variations in brightness on Titan's surface (and clouds near the south pole) are apparent at infrared wavelengths. The image scale of this picture is 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) per pixel. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
    Download larger image version here

    Along with carrying out a general reconnaissance of Titan, Cassini collected data on the density of the moon's atmosphere that will help engineers determine whether future flybys can be safely conducted at even lower altitudes. More important, those data also will be used to refine the entry angle of the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, scheduled to slam into Titan's atmosphere in January for a parachute descent to the surface.

    At today's briefing, Porco concentrated on the pictures. She said that despite the moon's lack of extensive cloud cover, "we've deduced that Titan is a super rotator, it means the cloud speeds, the wind speeds in the middle and the upper troposphere, are going faster than you would get if you just accounted simply for the conservation of angular momentum as a cloud basically developed from a convective parcel of air. This is the same case as for Venus."

    But the most intriguing features to her were linear streaks on the surface that indicate some sort of active process at work.

    "What we can confidently say about the structures we are seeing on the surface is there are linear trends, there are streaks or perhaps there are cracks in the bedrock ice of titan, we don't know," Porco said. "But there are linear features and we see this in lots of regions where we look in high resolution. And again, not quite exactly sure what it's telling us, whether it's a tectonic process we're looking at or it's (wind related).

    "What we can say from those images is the surface seems to be a young surface. We see very few circular features that one might interpret as craters. In fact, that doesn't even mean they're not there. If the surface is coated at this viewing geometry with no shadows, if the surface was coated completely with a uniform material, we wouldn't see any craters anyway even if they were there.

    "It's going to take combining all these data together, it's going to take our stereo imaging, which will give us topography, it's going to take a combination of the (infrared imaging spectrometer) and the radar in order to really pick out whether we're seeing highs or lows and so on. There's a lot of work left to do. Our reconnaissance of Titan, our exploration of Titan, is really just beginning."

    Imaging spectrometer team leader Robert Brown said his instrument also showed "a lot of complex structure on Titan's surface, a lot of strong margins between bright and dark regions."

    "We're not exactly sure what the composition of the bright and dark regions are but some of the preliminary indications we've gotten from VIMS (Visual Imaging Spectrometer) suggest that even though there are differences between bright and dark, which are roughly a factor of two, that the composition of those bright and dark regions are not all that different, which is not what we expected.

    "It's a bit hard to understand because their albedos are so different," he said. "But one way that can happen is you could coat the bright material and the dark material with a material which would mask the composition of the substrate, but you could see through it partially. So it may be some sort of a coating effect."

    For now, no one knows.

    "I think we're going to have to wait several flybys," Porco said, "maybe even several years, before we get a really good indication of what's going on."

    Titan up close
    Posted: October 26, 2004

    These raw, un-processed images of Saturn's moon Titan were taken by the Cassini spacecraft and transmitted to Earth on October 26. The pictures provide the closest views ever snapped of the hazy moon. Cassini flew 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) above the moon during the encounter.

    Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-25-04

    10/25/2004 5:03:53 AM PDT · 3 of 9
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-25-04

    10/25/2004 4:57:11 AM PDT · 1 of 9
    Sky survey finds mysterious new Milky Way companion
    Posted: October 24, 2004

    Most of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy lie in a very flat, pinwheel-shaped disk. Although this disk is prominent in images of galaxies similar to the Milky Way, there is also a very diffuse spherical "halo" of stars surrounding and enclosing the disks of such galaxies.

    Recent discoveries have shown that this outer halo of the Milky Way is probably composed of small companion galaxies ripped to shreds as they orbited the Milky Way.

    A discovery announced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) reveals a clump of stars unlike any seen before. The findings may shed light on how the Milky Way's stellar halo formed.

    This clump of newly discovered stars, called SDSSJ1049+5103 or Willman 1, is so faint that it could only be found as a slight increase in the number of faint stars in a small region of the sky.

    "We discovered this object in a search for extremely dim companion galaxies to the Milky Way," explains Beth Willman of New York University's Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. "However, it is 200 times less luminous than any galaxy previously seen."

    Another possibility, adds Michael Blanton, an SDSS colleague of Willman's at New York University, is that Willman 1 is an unusual type of globular cluster, a spherical agglomeration of thousands to millions of old stars."

    "Its properties are rather unusual for a globular cluster. It is dimmer than all but three known globular clusters. Moreover, these dim globular clusters are all much more compact than Willman 1", explains Blanton. "If it's a globular cluster, it is probably being torn to shreds by the gravitational tides of the Milky Way."

    The real distinction between the globular cluster and dwarf galaxy interpretations is that galaxies are usually accompanied by substantial quantities of dark matter, says Julianne Dalcanton, an SDSS researcher at the University of Washington. "Clearly the next step is to carry out additional measurements to determine whether there is any dark matter associated with Willman 1."

    SDSS consortium member Daniel Zucker of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, says the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has proven to be "a veritable gold mine for studies of the outer parts of our galaxy and its neighbors, as shown by Dr. Willman's discovery, and by our group's earlier discovery of a giant stellar structure and a new satellite galaxy around the Andromeda Galaxy."

    If Willman 1 does turn out to be a dwarf galaxy, this discovery could shed light on a long-standing mystery.

    The prevailing 'Cold Dark Matter' model predicts that our own Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by hundreds of dark matter clumps, each a few hundred light years in size and possibly populated by a dwarf galaxy.

    However, only 11 dwarf galaxies have been discovered orbiting the Milky Way. Perhaps some of these clumps have very few embedded stars, making the galaxies particularly difficult to find.

    "If this new object is in fact a dwarf galaxy, it may be the tip of the iceberg of a yet unseen population of ultra-faint dwarf galaxies," suggests Willman.

    The Milky Way has been an area of intense research by SDSS consortium members.

    "The colors of the stars in Willman 1 are similar to those in the Sagittarius tidal stream, a former dwarf companion galaxy to the Milky Way now in the process of merging into the main body of our Galaxy," explains Brian Yanny, an SDSS astrophysicist at The Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a leader in research on the Milky Way's accretion of material.

    Continues Yanny: "If Willman 1 is a globular cluster, then it may have piggybacked a ride into our Galaxy's neighborhood on one of these dwarf companions, like a tiny mite riding in on a flea as it, in turn, latches onto a massive dog."

    "Whether it is a globular cluster or a dwarf galaxy, this very faint object appears to represent one of the building blocks of the Milky Way," Willman said.

    The Sloan Digital Sky Survey ( is the most ambitious survey of the sky ever undertaken. With more than 200 astronomers in 13 institutions around the world, the SDSS is making a map of one quarter of the entire sky, determining the position and brightness of hundreds of millions of celestial objects. It will also measure the distances to more than a million galaxies and quasars from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

    The Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC) manages the SDSS for the Participating Institutions. The Participating Institutions are The University of Chicago, The U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, The Institute for Advanced Study, The Japan Participation Group, The Johns Hopkins University, The Korean Scientist Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), New Mexico State University, University of Pittsburgh, Princeton University, the United States Naval Observatory and the University of Washington.

    Funding for the project has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, and the Max Planck Society.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-23-04

    10/23/2004 3:30:41 PM PDT · 2 of 9
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-23-04

    10/23/2004 3:29:40 PM PDT · 1 of 9
    Errr...scraping the bottom of the barrel for subject matter, guys?

    Problem with Spirit rover's steering reappears
    Posted: October 21, 2004

    A problem that affects the steering on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has recurred after disappearing for nearly two weeks.

    Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are working to fully understand the intermittent problem and then implement operational work-arounds. Meanwhile, Spirit successfully steered and drove 3.67 meters (12 feet) on Oct. 17.

    Rover engineers are also analyzing a positive development on Spirit's twin, Opportunity: a sustained boost in power generation by Opportunity's solar panels.

    Both rovers have successfully completed their three-month primary missions and their first mission extensions. They began second extensions of their missions on Oct. 1.

    Rover engineers refrained from driving Spirit for five days after an Oct. 1 malfunction of a system that prevents wheels from being jostled in unwanted directions while driving. Each of the front and rear wheels of the rover has a motor called a steering actuator. It sets the direction in which the wheel is headed. The steering actuators are different from the motors that make the wheels roll, and hold the wheel in a specific direction while driving. A relay used in turning these steering actuators on and off is the likely cause of the intermittent nature of the anomaly.

    The relay operates Spirit's right-front and left-rear wheels concurrently, and did not operate as commanded on Oct. 1. Subsequent testing showed no trace of the problem, and on Oct. 7, the rover steered successfully and drove about 2 meters (7 feet), putting it in position to examine a layered rock called "Tetl" for several days. However, the anomaly occurred again on Oct. 13, and the problem appeared intermittently in tests later last week.

    "We are continuing tests on Spirit and in our testbed here at JPL," said Jim Erickson, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL. One possible work-around would be to deliberately blow a fuse controlling the relay, disabling the brake action of the steering actuators. The rovers could be operated without that feature. "The only change might be driving in shorter steps when the rover is in rugged terrain," Erickson said.

    Spirit has driven a total of 3,647 meters (2.27 miles) since landing, more than six times the distance set as a goal for the mission. Its current target is a layered rock called "Uchben" in the "Columbia Hills." Opportunity has driven 1,619 meters (just over a mile). Its latest stop is a lumpy boulder dubbed "Wopmay" inside "Endurance Crater."

    The daily power supply for each rover comes from 1.3 square meters (14 square feet) of solar panels converting sunlight into electricity. Just after the landings in January, the output was about 900 watt-hours per day for each rover -- enough to run a 100-watt bulb for nine hours. As anticipated, output gradually declined due to dust buildup and the martian seasonal change with fewer hours of sunlight and a lower angle of the Sun in the sky. By July, Spirit's daily output had declined to about 400 watt-hours per day. It has been between 400 and 500 watt-hours per day for most of the past two months.

    Opportunity, closer to Mars' equator and with the advantage of a sunward-facing tilt as it explored inside the southern half of a crater, maintained an output level between 500 and 600 watt-hours per day in June, July and August. Since early September, the amount of electricity from Opportunity's solar panels has increased markedly and unexpectedly, to more than 700 watt-hours per day, a level not seen since the first 10 weeks of the mission.

    "We've been surprised but pleased to see this increase," said Erickson, "The team is evaluating ways to determine which of a few different theories is the best explanation."

    Possible explanations under consideration include the action of wind removing some dust from the solar panels or the action of frost causing dust to clump. "We seem to have had several substantial cleanings of the solar panels," Erickson said.

    JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

    Democracy in Orbit: Chiao to Vote in Space

    Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao gives a 'thumbs up' on the way to launch Of the millions of American citizens eligible to vote this Election Day (Nov. 2), there's only one who won't be on the planet. But Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao isn't letting that little detail keep him from casting his ballot.

    Image left:Chiao gives a "thumbs up" on the way to the launch pad in Kazakhstan on October 13. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls. Click for larger image

    Even though he'll be floating around the Earth 230 miles up on the International Space Station, Chiao is not too far from the polls to stand up and be counted, thanks to a bill passed in 1997 by Texas legislators.

    The bill sets up a technical procedure for astronauts -- nearly all of whom live in Houston -- to vote from space. (And here's a bonus bit of presidential trivia: The bill was signed by the then-governor of Texas, George W. Bush.)

    Here's how it will work. An electronic ballot, generated by the Galveston County Clerk's office, will be emailed to Chaio's secure account at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Mission Control Center there will transfer the email to the Station using a high-speed modem via satellite, the same way they send all astronauts e-mails to the Station.

    Then, Chiao will cast his vote and use a secure e-mail connection to send his ballot back to the clerk's office to be recorded. It will be the first vote ever to be cast in a presidential election from space. But Chiao's democracy in orbit doesn't end there.

    "Voting is each citizen's most basic, yet most powerful tool for participating in America's cherished right to choose its leaders." -- Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao
    He's using his unique experience to encourage others to exercise their civic duty. He's sent a special message from space to all eligible voters urging them to go to the polls. The get out and vote public service announcements are airing on the NASA TV Video File.

    Watch Chiao's Message:
    2.9 Mb Quicktime | 2.7 Mb Windows Media

    "A few years ago, the Texas State Legislature passed a bill allowing astronauts to vote from space," Chiao said from aboard the Space Station. "Why did they go to so much trouble for just a few people? Because voting is each citizen's most basic, yet most powerful tool for participating in America's cherished right to choose its leaders."

    Chiao is only a few days into a six-month mission as commander of the tenth crew of the International Space Station. His Expedition 10 crewmate is Russian Cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov. Returning Expedition 9 crewmember Mike Fincke will be voting by absentee ballot, because he'll be in Russia for post-flight activities on Election Day.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-22-04

    10/22/2004 3:37:55 PM PDT · 2 of 5
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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-22-04

    10/22/2004 3:31:17 PM PDT · 1 of 5
    Expedition 9 crew heading home after 6-month mission
    Posted: October 22, 2004; Updated with quotes from handover ceremony

    There was a ceremonial changing of the guard aboard the International Space Station today as the departing Expedition 9 crew members handed control to their replacements in advance of Saturday's return to Earth.

    After six months circling the planet aboard the station, Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Michael Fincke are homeward bound to complete their long-duration voyage.

    The two men and visiting cosmonaut researcher Yuri Shargin will strap inside the Soyuz TMA-4 capsule Saturday afternoon and depart the outpost, setting the stage for a three-and-a-half-hour trek to landing in Kazakhstan.

    The station is being left to Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov for another half-year mission. They launched to the station last week on Soyuz TMA-5 along with Shargin.

    "We are leaving you a space station that is even more capable than we received it. Please care well for this spacecraft," Padalka said during the handover ceremony around 11:15 a.m. EDT (1515 GMT).

    "We accept responsibility and command of this fine space station," Chiao replied. "We will carry on the work of the partnership and pledge to carry on the legacy of human spaceflight."

    The five men exchanged handshakes, hugs and rang the station's bell.

    Expedition 9 will be the fourth consecutive station resident crew to return in Soyuz spacecraft after the Columbia accident grounded the shuttle fleet.

    "Our Soyuz has been a really trusty ship and it's definitely ready to go," Fincke said earlier this week.

    Preparations for the homecoming begin as Padalka, Fincke and Shargin enter the Soyuz craft currently docked to the station's Zarya module. It is the same ship Expedition 9 launched aboard in April. Hatches between the capsule and station are scheduled for closure at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Saturday.

    Fincke will be seated in the Soyuz craft's left seat as flight engineer, Padalka will be in the center commander's seat and Shargin will occupy the right seat. They will work together to active the craft's systems and ready for undocking.

    The command to begin opening hooks and latches firmly holding Soyuz to its Earth-facing docking port will be sent at 5:05 p.m. EDT (2105 GMT). Physical separation between the two craft occurs three minutes later as the capsule backs away at just one-tenth of a meter per second.

    After moving about 20 meters from the station, the Soyuz engines will fire for eight seconds at 5:11 p.m. EDT (2111 GMT) to execute the so-called separation burn to propel the craft a substantial distance from the complex.

    About two-and-a-half hours later, Soyuz will be 19 kilometers from the station. The capsule's engines will ignite for the four-minute, 20-second deorbit burn to brake from space. The onboard computers will initiate an engine firing at 7:42:37 p.m. EDT (2342:37 GMT) that slows the ship by 115.2 meters/sec, just enough to slip out of orbit for the return to Earth.

    Just before reaching the top of the atmosphere, the Soyuz's three distinct modules will separate at 8:08:35 p.m. EDT (0008:35 GMT) under computer command. The crew will be located in the Descent Module, which is sandwiched between the forward Orbital Module containing the docking mechanism and the rear Instrumentation and Propulsion Module housing the engines and avionics.

    The Descent Module orients itself to point the ablative heat shield in the direction of travel to protect the craft and crew from the intense plunge back to Earth. At 8:11:39 p.m. EDT (0011:39 GMT), the moment of Entry Interface occurs as the capsule hits the upper fringes of the atmosphere for the fiery re-entry.

    During the fall homeward, the Orbital Module and Instrumentation and Propulsion Module will burn up in the atmosphere.

    Six minutes after Entry Interface, the crew will experience the period of maximum G-loads during entry as they feel the tug of Earth's gravity for the first time since launch.

    At 8:20:38 p.m. EDT (0020:38 GMT), the onboard computers will start a commanded sequence for deployment of the capsule's parachutes at an altitude of about 10 kilometers. Two "pilot" parachutes are unfurled first, extracting a 24-square-meter drogue parachute. Within 16 seconds, the craft's fall will slow from 230 meters per second to about 80 m/s.

    The parachute deployment creates a gentle spin for the Soyuz as it dangles underneath the drogue chute, assisting in the capsule's stability in the final minutes before touchdown.

    The drogue chute will be jettisoned, allowing the main parachute to be deployed. It is connected to the Descent Module by two harnesses, covers an area of about 1,000 square meters and slows descent to 7.2 meters/second.

    Initially, the Descent Module will hang underneath the main parachute at a 30-degree angle with respect to the horizon for aerodynamic stability, but the bottommost harness will be severed a few minutes before landing, allowing the Descent Module to hang vertically through touchdown.

    At an altitude of just over 5 kilometers, the heat shield will be cast free. That is followed by dumping of any residual propellant from the Soyuz.

    Once the heat shield is gone, the Soyuz altimeter is exposed to the surface of the Earth. Using a reflector system, signals are bounced to the ground from the Soyuz and reflected back, providing the capsule's computers updated information on altitude and rate of descent.

    At an altitude of about 12 meters, cockpit displays will tell Padalka to prepare for the soft landing engine firing. Just one meter above the surface, and just seconds before touchdown, the six solid propellant engines are fired in a final braking maneuver, enabling the Soyuz to land to complete its mission, settling down at a velocity of about 1.5 meters per second.

    Touchdown is expected at 8:35:38 p.m. EDT (0035:38 GMT) on the steppes of north-central Kazakhstan, about 97 minutes before sunrise at the landing site. Expedition 9 concludes with a duration of 187 days, 21 hours and 16 minutes.

    A group of Russian military helicopters carrying the recovery forces, including a U.S. flight surgeon and astronaut support personnel, should arrive soon after landing to help the crew exit the capsule.

    Each crew member will be placed in special reclining chairs near the capsule for initial medical tests and begin readapting to Earth's gravity. They will be transferred into a portable medical tent erected near the touchdown point where the three men can remove their spacesuits.

    Post-landing plans call for the crew to be flown from the site in helicopters within two hours of landing. They will be taken to the city of Kustanai for an initial welcoming ceremony. Then a Russian military transport plane will fly the crew to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, where their families will meet them.

    The crew undergoes more than two weeks of medical tests and physical rehabilitation before Padalka and Fincke can return to the U.S. for additional debriefings and follow-up exams.

    European probe on track for its Moon encounter
    Posted: October 18, 2004

    From October 10 to 14, the ion engine of Euoprean Space Agency's SMART-1 carried out a continuous thrust manoeuvre in a last major push that will get the spacecraft to the Moon capture point on November 13.

    An artist's concept of SMART 1 and its destination -- our moon. Credit: ESA
    SMART-1, on its way to the Moon, has now covered more than 80 million kilometres. Its journey started on September 27, 2003, when the spacecraft was launched on board an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Since then, it has been spiralling in progressively larger orbits around Earth, to eventually be captured by the lunar gravity and enter into orbit around the Moon in November this year.

    The SMART-1 mission was designed to pursue two main objectives. The first is purely technological: to demonstrate and test a number of space techniques to be applied to future interplanetary exploration missions. The second goal is scientific, mainly dedicated to lunar science. It is the technology demonstration goal, in particular the first European flight test of a solar-powered ion engine as a spacecraft's main propulsion system, that gave shape to the peculiar route and duration (13 months) of the SMART-1 journey to the Moon.

    The long spiralling orbit around Earth, which is bringing the spacecraft closer and closer to the Moon, is needed for the ion engine to function and be tested over a distance comparable to that a spacecraft would travel during a possible interplanetary trip. The SMART-1 mission is also testing the response of a spacecraft propelled by such an engine during gravity-assisted manoeuvres. These are techniques currently used on interplanetary journeys, which make use of the gravitational pull of celestial objects (e.g. planets) for the spacecraft to gain acceleration and reach its final target while saving fuel.

    In SMART-1's case, the Moon's gravitational pull has been exploited in three "lunar resonance" manoeuvres. The first two successfully took place in August and September 2004. The last resonance manoeuvre was on October 12, during the last major ion engine thrust, which lasted nearly five days, from October 10 to 14. Thanks to this final thrust, SMART-1 will make two more orbits around Earth without any further need to switch on the engine, apart from minor trajectory correction if needed. The same thrust will allow the spacecraft to progressively fall into the natural sphere of attraction of the Moon and start orbiting around it from 13 November, when it is 60 000 kilometres from the lunar surface.

    This illustration shows SMART 1 maneuvering from Earth to the Moon. Credit: ESA
    SMART-1 will reach its first perilune (initial closest distance from the lunar surface) on November 15, while the ion engine is performing its first and major thrust in orbit around the Moon. After that it will continue orbiting around the Moon in smaller loops until it reaches its final operational orbit (spanning between 3000 and 300 kilometres over the Moon's poles) in mid-January 2005. From then, for six months Smart-1 will start the first comprehensive survey of key chemical elements on the lunar surface and will investigate the theory of how the Moon was formed.
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-21-04

    10/21/2004 4:41:29 PM PDT · 2 of 7
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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-21-04

    10/21/2004 4:40:39 PM PDT · 1 of 7

    Lunar Eclipse Schedule
    Wednesday, October 27, 2004


    Moon enters
    Earth's shadow



    Moon exits
    Earth's shadow
    Universal Time

    01:14 (Oct 28)

    02:23 (Oct 28)

     03:45 (Oct 28)
    04:54 (Oct 28)
    Eastern Time

    9:14 p.m.

    10:23 p.m.

    11:45 p.m.

    00:54 a.m. (Oct. 28)

    Central Time

    8:14 p.m.

    9:23 p.m.

    10:45 p.m.

    11:54 p.m.
    Mountain Time

    7:14 p.m.

    8:23 p.m.

    9:45 p.m.

    10:54 p.m.
    Pacific Time

    6:14 p.m.

    7:23 p.m.

    8:45 p.m.

    9:54 p.m.
    Alaska Time

    5:14 p.m.

    6:23 p.m.

    7:45 p.m.

    8:54 p.m.
    Hawaii Time

    3:14 p.m.

    4:23 p.m.

    5:45 p.m.

    6:54 p.m.
    Notes: Unless otherwise marked, all times refer to Wednesday evening, Oct. 27th. Times printed in light gray denote events that happen before local moonrise.

    New view of the sky
    Posted: October 20, 2004

    Astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) have overcome longstanding technical hurdles to map the sky at little-explored radio frequencies that may provide a tantalizing look deep into the early Universe. The scientists have released images and data covering half of the sky visible from the VLA, and hope to complete their survey within a year.

    A "rogues' gallery" of radio galaxy types seen in the VLSS. White regions indicate radio-bright emitting regions in the galaxies, while deep red/black indicate regions of little or no radio emission. In all cases, the radio galaxies are thought to shine because of jets of highly relativistic material being shot from the environment of a supermassive black hole in the center of the radio galaxy. The diversity of shapes probably reflects the environment of the radio galaxy itself as well as the history of the supermassive black hole and how much material has fallen into it. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF
    The VLA Low-frequency Sky Survey (VLSS) is producing sky images made at an observing frequency of 74 MHz, a far lower frequency than used for most current radio-astronomy research.

    "Because of the Earth's ionosphere, such a low frequency has proven very difficult for high-quality imaging, and it is only in the past few years that we have developed the techniques that make a project like the VLSS possible," said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, NM.

    Because the high-quality VLSS images will give astronomers a look at the Universe through what essentially is a new "window," they expect the images to reveal some rare and important objects.

    "We expect to find very distant radio galaxies -- galaxies spewing jets of material at nearly light speed and powered by supermassive black holes," said Joseph Lazio of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. "By determining just how distant these radio galaxies are, we will learn how early the black holes formed in the history of the Universe," he added.

    Another tantalizing possibility is that the low-frequency images may reveal "halos" and "relics" produced by collisions of galaxies in clusters. If the halos and relics are found in the distant, and thus early, Universe, it will give scientists important clues about the timetable for formation of large-scale structure. In addition, the astronomers hope that the VLSS images may show previously-undiscovered pulsars -- superdense, spinning neutron stars.

    Massive planets -- "super Jupiters" circling stars beyond the Sun -- also might reveal themselves through bursts of radio emission at the frequency of this survey, the astronomers speculated.

    Images from the survey are being made available to other scientists as soon as they are completed. The survey will use some 800 hours of VLA observing time. The newly-released images and data are available via the NRAO Web site.

    "By doing this survey and making the results available, we are bringing low-frequency radio data, previously quite difficult to produce, to all astronomers in a simple and easy manner," Perley said.

    "We also expect that this survey will spur additional research into objects that scientists find puzzling or interesting," Perley saidd. "We really will have to wait for years to know the full scientific benefit of this survey," he said.

    In addition to Perley and Lazio, the VLSS team includes James Condon and William Cotton of NRAO; Aaron Cohen and Wendy Lane of the National Research Council and the Naval Research Laboratory; Namir Kassim of the Naval Research Laboratory; and William Erickson of the University of Maryland and University of Tasmania.

    The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement with Associated Universities, Inc.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-18-04

    10/18/2004 3:21:04 PM PDT · 2 of 8
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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-18-04

    10/18/2004 3:17:28 PM PDT · 1 of 8
    Is a 90-day Mars round trip possible via new propulsion?
    Posted: October 16, 2004

    A new means of propelling spacecraft being developed at the University of Washington could dramatically cut the time needed for astronauts to travel to and from Mars and could make humans a permanent fixture in space.

    In this artist's conception, a plasma station (lower left) applies a magnetized beam of ionized plasma to a spacecraft bound for Jupiter. Credit: John Carscadden, University of Washington
    In fact, with magnetized-beam plasma propulsion, or mag-beam, quick trips to distant parts of the solar system could become routine, said Robert Winglee, a UW Earth and space sciences professor who is leading the project.

    Currently, using conventional technology and adjusting for the orbits of both the Earth and Mars around the sun, it would take astronauts about 2.5 years to travel to Mars, conduct their scientific mission and return.

    "We're trying to get to Mars and back in 90 days," Winglee said. "Our philosophy is that, if it's going to take two-and-a-half years, the chances of a successful mission are pretty low."

    Mag-beam is one of 12 proposals that this month began receiving support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Institute for Advanced Concepts. Each gets $75,000 for a six-month study to validate the concept and identify challenges in developing it. Projects that make it through that phase are eligible for as much as $400,000 more over two years.

    Under the mag-beam concept, a space-based station would generate a stream of magnetized ions that would interact with a magnetic sail on a spacecraft and propel it through the solar system at high speeds that increase with the size of the plasma beam. Winglee estimates that a control nozzle 32 meters wide would generate a plasma beam capable of propelling a spacecraft at 11.7 kilometers per second. That translates to more than 26,000 miles an hour or more than 625,000 miles a day.

    Mars is an average of 48 million miles from Earth, though the distance can vary greatly depending on where the two planets are in their orbits around the sun. At that distance, a spacecraft traveling 625,000 miles a day would take more than 76 days to get to the red planet. But Winglee is working on ways to devise even greater speeds so the round trip could be accomplished in three months.

    But to make such high speeds practical, another plasma unit must be stationed on a platform at the other end of the trip to apply brakes to the spacecraft.

    "Rather than a spacecraft having to carry these big powerful propulsion units, you can have much smaller payloads," he said.

    Winglee envisions units being placed around the solar system by missions already planned by NASA. One could be used as an integral part of a research mission to Jupiter, for instance, and then left in orbit there when the mission is completed. Units placed farther out in the solar system would use nuclear power to create the ionized plasma; those closer to the sun would be able to use electricity generated by solar panels.

    The mag-beam concept grew out of an earlier effort Winglee led to develop a system called mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion. In that system, a plasma bubble would be created around a spacecraft and sail on the solar wind. The mag-beam concept removes reliance on the solar wind, replacing it with a plasma beam that can be controlled for strength and direction.

    A mag-beam test mission could be possible within five years if financial support remains consistent, he said. The project will be among the topics during the sixth annual NASA Advanced Concepts Institute meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seattle. The meeting is free and open to the public.

    Winglee acknowledges that it would take an initial investment of billions of dollars to place stations around the solar system. But once they are in place, their power sources should allow them to generate plasma indefinitely. The system ultimately would reduce spacecraft costs, since individual craft would no longer have to carry their own propulsion systems. They would get up to speed quickly with a strong push from a plasma station, then coast at high speed until they reach their destination, where they would be slowed by another plasma station.

    "This would facilitate a permanent human presence in space," Winglee said. "That's what we are trying to get to."

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-16-04

    10/16/2004 6:46:58 AM PDT · 2 of 8
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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-16-04

    10/16/2004 6:40:35 AM PDT · 1 of 8
    Probe preparing to plunge into Titan's atmosphere
    Posted: October 15, 2004

    On Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens probe will plow into the orange atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan, becoming the first spacecraft to attempt to land on a moon in our solar system since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 touched down on Earth's moon in 1976.

    Though scientists hope that Huygens will survive the plunge, it will be flying blind through hydrocarbon haze and methane clouds to a surface that could consist of seven-kilometer-high ice mountains and liquid methane seas.

    That's the picture that emerges from a series of articles - half of them by University of California, Berkeley, researchers - published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month and detailing what scientists know to date about the surface, atmosphere and magnetic field of Titan. This view sets the stage for an analysis of new data soon to arrive from the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe.

    "These (journal) papers really give a state-of-the-art picture of Titan, before Cassini goes into orbit around Saturn and the Huygens probe goes into Titan's atmosphere," said Imke de Pater, a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley who wrote the introductory paper in the series and co-authored four of the nine papers. The papers came out of a meeting De Pater hosted last November at UC Berkeley to discuss what has been gleaned to date about the moon from optical, infrared and radar telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the twin Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.

    Scientists expect the current sketchy picture of Titan's surface, totally obscured by clouds and haze, will much improve when the Cassini spacecraft, which is carrying the Huygens probe, starts an intense observation of Titan later this month. While on-board infrared imaging cameras can pierce the cloud cover, however, they can only reveal bright and dark spots on the surface, which are difficult to interpret. What Huygens will encounter at Titan's surface will remain a mystery until the probe plops into an ocean or parachutes to solid ground.

    "Based upon their spectral characteristics, the bright areas imaged by various Earth-bound telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope could be a mixture of rock and water ice," de Pater said. Such a mixture appears relatively bright in comparison with substances like tar and liquid hydrocarbons, which absorb essentially all sunlight at these wavelengths and hence appear very dark.

    "The dark areas could contain liquid hydrocarbons," she said. "But they're all still a mystery."

    Some scientists have suggested that one large bright area, Xanadu, is a mountain of rock and water ice that stands out because runoff (hydrocarbon rain) has washed off the dark hydrocarbon particles. UC Berkeley graduate student J. Taylor Perron and de Pater concluded in one of the papers that such an ice continent, primarily composed of water ice, could be no higher than 3 to 7 kilometers - that is, at most, 23,000 feet, about the height of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. That is even more impressive on a globe less than half the diameter of Earth.

    The Huygens probe, which will take from two to two and a half hours to float to the surface, is aiming for a landing site in a dark area bordering a bright area near the equator, so it could land instead in a gasoline-like hydrocarbon brew of methane, propane or butane. Though the probe is designed to float, its builders expect, at most, 45 minutes of data once it sets down. A few minutes would be cause for celebration.

    The Cassini/Huygens spacecraft was launched from Kennedy Space Center in 1997, the product of an international collaboration between three space agencies - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space agency - involving contributions from 17 nations. It arrived at Saturn in July 2004, beginning a four-year mission to photograph and collect data on Saturn, its rings and moons. This Oct. 26, it will get within 1,000 kilometers of Titan - closer than ever before - turning its remote sensing instruments on that moon's surface and atmosphere. Cassini will release the Huygens probe on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

    The second largest moon in the solar system and the only one with a thick, methane-rich, nitrogen atmosphere, Titan intrigues scientists because of its resemblance to a young Earth. The atmospheres of both Titan and the early Earth were dominated by nearly the same amount of nitrogen, and the chemistry discovered on Titan could provide clues to the origins of life on our planet.

    De Pater and chemistry graduate student Mate Adamkovics have used the adaptive optics on the Keck Telescope in Hawaii to image the hydrocarbon haze that envelops the moon, taking snapshots at various altitudes from 150 to 200 kilometers down to the surface. In the movie they constructed from these snapshots, haze is very evident in the atmosphere at about 30-50 kilometers over the South Pole. Stratospheric haze at about 150 kilometers is visible over a large area in the northern hemisphere but not the southern hemisphere, an asymmetry observed previously. And at the southern hemisphere's tropopause - the border between the lower atmosphere and the stratosphere at about 42 kilometers altitude - cirrus haze is visible, analogous to cirrus haze on Earth.

    These observations agree with a theory of haze formation whereby sunlight creates haze particles at a high altitude - 400 to 600 kilometers above the surface - that are blown to the winter pole, where the haze accumulates as a polar "hood." The haze particles start to settle out and are carried by a lower-elevation return flow to the summer hemisphere.

    Laboratory experiments by Melissa Trainer of the University of Colorado, Boulder, reported in the journal suggest that the haze particles could be polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons if the methane concentration in the atmosphere is high - around 10 percent - though they would be primarily long-chain hydrocarbons at low concentrations. The Huygens probe will measure gas concentrations as it plummets through the atmosphere, hopefully testing this connection between methane concentration and aerosol composition.

    Cassini's observations of Titan over the next four years should yield much more information about the atmospheric haze and surface topography, as well as raise new questions. De Pater urges ground-based astronomers to continue to observe Titan's moon, "so the Cassini/Huygens data can be tied in with the long-term data base on Titan's seasons," she wrote.

    De Pater herself will be peering at Titan through the Keck Telescope on Jan. 15 when the Huygens probe disappears into the atmosphere.

    "I'm skeptical that we'll see a meteor trail, as some have predicted, but our observations will give us a good image of Titan at the time of probe entry, which could be very relevant to calibrating Titan at entry time," de Pater said.

    De Pater's research is supported by the National Science Foundation. The Nov. 17, 2003, workshop on Titan was sponsored by the Center for Integrative Planetary Studies at UC Berkeley.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-15-04

    10/15/2004 3:36:46 PM PDT · 2 of 6
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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-15-04

    10/15/2004 3:33:16 PM PDT · 1 of 6
    Genesis mishap investigators report progress
    Posted: October 14, 2004

    As scientists begin to unpack more than 3,000 containers of samples of the sun brought to Earth by NASA's Genesis mission, the Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) has identified a likely direct cause of the failure of Genesis' parachute system to open.

    The Genesis capsule impacted the Utah desert after its chute and parafoil failed to deploy. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
    The parachute system failed to deploy when Genesis returned to Earth September 8, 2004. The MIB, analyzing the Genesis capsule at a facility near Denver, said the likely cause was a design error that involves the orientation of gravity- switch devices. The switches sense the braking caused by the high-speed entry into the atmosphere, and then initiate the timing sequence leading to deployment of the craft's drogue parachute and parafoil.

    "This single cause has not yet been fully confirmed, nor has it been determined whether it is the only problem within the Genesis system," said Dr. Michael G. Ryschkewitsch, the MIB chair. "The Board is working to confirm this proximate cause, to determine why this error happened, why it was not caught by the test program and an extensive set of in-process and after-the-fact reviews of the Genesis system."

    Meanwhile, scientists unpacking samples at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, curation facility remain upbeat in their assessment of the prospects for obtaining useful science from the recovered samples.

    The facility counted more than 3,000 tracking numbers for the containers that hold pieces of wafers from the five collector panels. The panels secured samples of atoms and ions from the solar wind that were collected during Genesis' nearly three- year mission in deep space. Some of the containers hold as many as 96 pieces of the wafers. The team has been preparing the samples for study since the science payload and recovered samples arrived at JSC October 4.

    Planning is under way for preliminary examination of the samples to prepare for allocation to the science community. The samples eventually will be moved to the JSC Genesis clean room where they will be cleaned, examined and then distributed to scientists, promising researchers years of study into the origins and evolution of the solar system.

    "We cheered the news from the science team about the recovery of a significant amount of the precious samples of the sun," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, deputy associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Despite the hard landing, Genesis was able to deliver. However, we await the final report of the Mishap Board to understand what caused the malfunction, and to hear the Board's recommendations for how we can avoid such a problem in the future," he added.

    The recovered remains of the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) are undergoing engineering inspections and tests at the Waterton, Colo., facility of Lockheed Martin Astronautics (LMA). The Genesis spacecraft and SRC were built at Waterton. Lockheed Martin is supporting the MIB both to examine the recovered hardware and in assembling documentation relevant to the development of the space system.

    "Both Lockheed Martin and JPL have been providing every possible support to our investigation. All of the people from both organizations who were involved in the Genesis project have been extremely professional and cooperative in helping the Board do its work," said Dr. Ryschkewitsch.

    The safety critical pyrotechnic devices and the damaged lithium sulfur dioxide battery have been secured to allow safe operations. The battery has been transported to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (JPL), Calif., to begin detailed evaluation.

    The MIB is evaluating the recovered hardware, pertinent documentation, impact site recovery activities and interviewing people from development teams. The MIB is using a fault tree as its guide. A fault tree is a formal method for determining, organizing and evaluating possible direct causes for a mishap and to trace them to root causes.

    The Board's charter is to examine every possible cause and to determine whether it was related to the mishap. The Board expects to complete its work by late November.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-14-04

    10/14/2004 12:57:25 PM PDT · 2 of 6
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-14-04

    10/14/2004 12:50:42 PM PDT · 1 of 6
    Space station crew soars aboard Soyuz rocket

    Posted: October 13, 2004

    Soyuz launches with Expedition 10. Credit: Energia
    Riding a venerable Russian Soyuz rocket off the desert steppes of Kazakhstan, the next residents of the International Space Station safely departed planet Earth tonight for their six-month voyage in orbit.

    The Soyuz TMA-5 capsule blasted into space at 0306 GMT (11:06 p.m. EDT), enjoying an apparent flawless ascent atop its three-stage launcher.

    Cold, clear skies over Baikonur Cosmodrome offered picture-perfect conditions for spectators watching the rocket rise on the flickering orange flame from the kerosene-fed engines.

    Video cameras mounted inside the crew module showed Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao, station flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov and visiting cosmonaut Yuri Shargin flipping through checklists and monitoring onboard displays as they rocketed to space.

    Nine minutes after liftoff, the capsule separated from the launch vehicle and followed computer commands to deploy the power-generating solar arrays, navigation antennas and docking probe.

    The Soyuz launch appeared flawless. Credit: Energia
    "An excellent launch here in Baikonur. All of the systems seem to be working and they are in orbit now," Fred Gregory, NASA's deputy administrator and former astronaut, said shortly after liftoff.

    It was the fourth time in less than two years that an American astronaut had launched aboard the Soyuz. The Russian spacecraft is the only option to launch humans to the space station while NASA's shuttle fleet is grounded for safety upgrades in the wake of Columbia.

    "I continue to be impressed with the safety, reliablity and the dependability in which the Soyuz vehicle gives through its launch. That just gives our astronauts really a good, safe ride up to the International Space Station," Michael Kostelnik, NASA's deputy associate administrator for the shuttle and station programs, said after launch.

    "In this time of crisis when we have the shuttle not up primarily supporting the International Space Station, I think the support we have gotten from our Russian friends in crew transfer and so forth shows you the strength of how important partnerships are for these complex enterprises in space."

    The Soyuz capsule was lofted into a preliminary orbit, setting the stage for a highly choreographed series of engine firings over the next two days that will maneuver Soyuz toward the International Space Station.

    A fully automated docking to the station's Pirs module is scheduled for Saturday morning around 0425 GMT (12:25 a.m. EDT).

    This spectacular image shows the Soyuz contrail as the rocket powers to space. Credit: Energia
    Chiao and Sharipov will spend the following eight days assuming control of the station from outgoing Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Mike Fincke.

    "We have a pretty busy docked mission. Obviously, the crew is primarily busy with handover. The old crew -- Expedition 9 -- is showing the ropes to the Expedition 10 crew," said Annette Hasbrook, the Expedition 10 lead flight director in Houston's Mission Control.

    "As part of that, there will be time spent on SSRMS familiarization -- that is our large robotic arm that is on the space station -- and also time spent in the U.S. airlock working on our (spacewalk) suits."

    Shargin plans to conduct a series of science experiments during his station visit before returning to Earth with the Expedition 9 crew on the night of October 23, landing in Kazkahstan before dawn.

    Shargin, Sharipov and Chiao are welcomed at the Soyuz launch pad by a large crowd. Credit: Energia
    The 193-day voyage of Expedition 10 will see the crew tending to station systems, conducting science experiments, receiving two unmanned resupply ships, performing a pair of Russian-based spacewalks and preparing the complex for the first post-Columbia space shuttle visit expected next May.

    "It is the expectation they will leave (the station) prepped and ready for the the space shuttle's arrival," Kostelnik said.

    "A lot of the preparations that they will be doing include pre-packing cargoes that will be returned on the shuttle flight (and) reconfiguring stowage on the ISS," said Susan Brand, NASA's Expedition 10 increment manager.

    "This will be the program's first opportunity to return items to the ground for either refurb, reuse or failure analysis. So we will be looking forward to getting a lot of hardware home and off the station," Hasbrook added.

    Chiao and Sharipov are scheduled to land April 25 -- a few weeks before Discovery blasts off on the shuttle return-to-flight mission -- after handing the station to Expedition 11.

    For a detailed look of the Expedition 10 mission, see our preview story published earlier this week.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-13-04

    10/13/2004 10:37:05 AM PDT · 2 of 7
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-13-04

    10/13/2004 10:34:01 AM PDT · 1 of 7
    They worry about the darndest things...if the contrails reflect heat back in the daytime and retain it at night, isn't this a zero net effect and perhaps a mitigation of temperature extremes? Hmmmmm.....

    Newfound star cluster may be final Milky Way 'fossil'
    Posted: October 12, 2004

    Just when astronomers thought they might have dug up the last of our galaxy's "fossils," they've discovered a new one in the galactic equivalent of our own backyard.

    This false-color image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a globular cluster previously hidden in the dusty plane of our Milky Way galaxy. The red streak behind the core of the cluster is a dust cloud, which may indicate the cluster's interaction with the Milky Way. Alternatively, this cloud may lie coincidentally along Spitzer's line of sight. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wyoming/DSS
    Download a larger image here

    Called globular clusters, these ancient bundles of stars date back to the birth of our Milky Way galaxy, 13 or so billion years ago. They are sprinkled around the center of the galaxy like seeds in a pumpkin. Astronomers use clusters as tools for studying the Milky Way's age and formation.

    New infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory reveal a never-before-seen globular cluster within the dusty confines of the Milky Way. The findings will be reported in an upcoming issue of the Astronomical Journal.

    "It's like finding a long-lost cousin," said Dr. Chip Kobulnicky, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, and lead author of the report. "We thought all the galaxy's globular clusters had already been found."

    "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Andrew Monson, a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, who first spotted the cluster. "I certainly wasn't expecting to find such a cluster."

    The newfound cluster is one of about 150 known to orbit the center of the Milky Way. These tightly packed knots of stars are among the oldest objects in our galaxy, having formed about 10 to 13 billion years ago. They contain several hundred thousand stars, most of which are older and less massive than our Sun.

    Monson first noticed the cluster while scanning data from the Spitzer Space Telescope's Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire - a survey to find objects hidden within the dusty mid-plane of our galaxy. He then searched archival data for a match and found only one undocumented image of the cluster from a previous NASA-funded infrared survey of the sky, called the Two Micron All-Sky Survey. "The cluster was there in the data but nobody had found it," said Monson.

    "This discovery demonstrates why Spitzer is so powerful - it can see objects that are completely hidden in visible light," said Dr. Michael Werner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for Spitzer. "This is particularly relevant to the study of the plane of our galaxy, where dust blocks most visible light."

    Follow-up observations with the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory helped set the distance of the new cluster at about 9,000 light-years from Earth - closer than most clusters -- and set the mass at the equivalent of 300,000 Suns. The cluster's apparent size, as viewed from Earth, is comparable to a grain of rice held at arm's length. It is located in the constellation Aquila.

    The research team consists of astronomers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Boston University, Boston, Mass.; the University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.; and the Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, Calif. The Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire is managed by the University of Wisconsin and led by Dr. Ed Churchwell.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. JPL is a division of Caltech. Spitzer's infrared array camera, which captured the new cluster, was built by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The camera's development was led by Dr. Giovanni Fazio of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-12-04

    10/12/2004 8:49:28 AM PDT · 2 of 8
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

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  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-12-04

    10/12/2004 8:39:27 AM PDT · 1 of 8
    Sorry APOD has been missing for a few days; my computer was having some problems loading Windows. Hopefully I resolved the issue; we'll see.

    Another view of M3:

    Cassini eyes the culprit
    Posted: October 11, 2004

    Gazing beyond Saturn's magnificent rings, Cassini spotted the cause of the dark gap visible in the foreground of this image: Mimas, which is 398 kilometers (247 miles) wide. The gravitational influence of Mimas is responsible for the 4,800 kilometer- (2,980 mile-) wide Cassini division, which stretches across the lower left portion of this view. The little moon is at a nearly half-full phase in this view.

    Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
    Download larger image version here

    A small clump of material is visible in the narrow F ring, beyond the edge of the main rings.

    The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera at a distance of 8.9 million kilometers (5.5 million miles) from Mimas and at a Sun-Mimas-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 88 degrees. The image scale is 54 kilometers (34 miles) per pixel. The image was magnified by a factor of four to aid visibility.

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras, were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-06-04

    10/06/2004 5:46:26 PM PDT · 12 of 13
    petuniasevan to All

    My computer decided to wait until poorman was off visiting his parents 2 states away to malfunction. Grrrrr....

    I will be trying to reload Windows and see if that solves the problem; if not, there will be no APOD for a few days.

    And of course my APOD Ping List is on that computer. Hopefully I will be able to retrieve all my files.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-06-04

    10/06/2004 3:40:35 AM PDT · 2 of 13
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

    YES! You too can be added to the APOD PING list! Just ask!

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-06-04

    10/06/2004 3:38:43 AM PDT · 1 of 13
    Frequent starbursts sterilize center of Milky Way
    Posted: October 5, 2004

    Life near the center of our galaxy never had a chance. Every 20 million years on average, gas pours into the galactic center and slams together, creating millions of new stars. The more massive stars soon go supernova, exploding violently and blasting the surrounding space with enough energy to sterilize it completely. This scenario is detailed by astronomer Antony Stark (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues in the October 10, 2004, issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    Say goodbye to the neighborhood! On this hypothetical world near the center of the Milky Way, the planet's sun paints the sky purple as descends toward the horizon at left. However, the bright supernova exploding at upper right lends an ominous feeling because its radiation is about to wipe out the alien life on this world. The galactic center is so dense with bright, hot stars that several can be seen through the cloudy twilight sky. Credit: David A. Aguilar, CfA
    The team's discovery was made possible using the unique capabilities of the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory (AST/RO). It is the only observatory in the world able to make large-scale maps of the sky at submillimeter wavelengths.

    The gas for each starburst comes from a ring of material located about 500 light-years from the center of our galaxy. Gas collects there under the influence of the galactic bar-a stretched oval of stars 6,000 light-years long rotating in the middle of the Milky Way. Tidal forces and interactions with this bar cause the ring of gas to build up to higher and higher densities until it reaches a critical density or "tipping point." At that point, the gas collapses down into the galactic center and smashes together, fueling a huge burst of star formation.

    "A starburst is star formation gone wild," says Stark.

    Astronomers see starbursts in many galaxies, most often colliding galaxies where lots of gas crashes together. But starbursts can happen in isolated galaxies too, including our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

    The next starburst in the Milky Way is coming relatively soon, predicts Stark. "It likely will happen within the next 10 million years."

    That assessment is based on the team's measurements showing that the gas density in the ring is nearing the critical density. Once that threshold is crossed, the ring will collapse and a starburst will blaze forth on an unimaginably huge scale.

    Some 30 million solar masses of matter will flood inward, overwhelming the 3 million solar mass black hole at the galactic center. The black hole, massive as it is, will be unable to consume most of the gas.

    "It would be like trying to fill a dog dish with a firehose," says Stark. Instead, most of the gas will form millions of new stars.

    The more massive stars will burn their fuel quickly, exhausting it in only a few million years. Then, they will explode as supernovae and irradiate the surrounding space. With so many stars packed so close together as a result of the starburst, the entire galactic center will be impacted dramatically enough to kill any life on an Earth-like planet. Fortunately, the Earth itself lies about 25,000 light-years away, far enough that we are not in danger.

    The facility used to make this discovery, AST/RO, is a 1.7-meter-diameter telescope that operates in one of the most challenging environments on the planet-the frigid desert of Antarctica. It is located at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. The air at the South Pole is very dry and cold, so radiation that would be absorbed by water vapor at other sites can reach the ground and be detected.

    "These observations have helped advance our understanding of star formation in the Milky Way," says Stark. "We hope to continue those advancements by collaborating with researchers who are working on the Spitzer Space Telescope's Legacy Science Program. AST/RO's complementary observations would uniquely contribute to that effort."

    Stark's co-authors on the paper announcing this finding are Christopher L. Martin, Wilfred M. Walsh, Kecheng Xiao and Adair P. Lane (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), and Christopher K. Walker (Steward Observatory).

    Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-05-04

    10/04/2004 9:25:41 PM PDT · 3 of 6

    That video is a LONG LONG one... had it on for 15 minutes and only got a tiny way through. You can scroll through it though.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-05-04

    10/04/2004 9:21:25 PM PDT · 2 of 6
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

    YES! You too can be added to the APOD PING list! Just ask!

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-05-04

    10/04/2004 9:18:32 PM PDT · 1 of 6

    Presentation Video for the successful second flight HERE... --- it's a very long video but a good resource.

    SpaceShipOne soars to $10 million X Prize
    Posted: October 4, 2004; Updated with post-flight quotes

    MOJAVE, Calif. - SpaceShipOne, flown by veteran test pilot Brian Binnie, rocketed into space history today, climbing higher than 62 miles for the second time in five days to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for designer Burt Rutan and financial backer Paul Allen.

    "It was very exciting, very exciting," Binnie said after the flight, standing in front of SpaceShipOne on the runway at Mojave Airport. "I thank God I live in a country where this is possible."

    Carried to an altitude of nearly 50,000 feet by the sleek twin-engine White Knight carrier jet - another innovative Rutan design - SpaceShipOne was released at 1549 GMT (10:49 a.m. EDT) to begin its historic climb to sub-orbital space. Seconds later, Binnie ignited the craft's hybrid rocket motor and the spaceplane shot skyward on a near-vertical trajectory.

    During the first X Prize flight last Wednesday, SpaceShipOne began rolling rapidly 50 seconds into powered flight at a velocity of 2.7 times the speed of sound. Pilot Mike Melvill, 63, shut down the craft's engine 11 seconds early in agreement with advice from the ground, reaching an altitude of 337,600 feet, or 63.9 miles, more than enough to meet the X Prize requirement.

    He quickly damped out the rolls using the ship's maneuvering jets and completed a picture-perfect return to Earth.

    This time around, the rocketplane remained stable throughout its climb out of the discernible atmosphere, coasting to an altitude of roughly 368,000 feet, or 69.7 miles, before falling back toward the Mojave Desert. The previous altitude record for an aircraft was 354,300 feet, or 67 miles, set by X-15 pilot Joe Walker in 1963.

    "It's hard to describe," Binnie told reporters. "It's a fantastic experience and it culminates when the motor shuts down and you realize you are no longer encumbered, there is a darkness outside the windows and it is contrasted starkly by this bright pearl that is the greater California area, which is the view from up there. ... It's a fantastic view, it's a fantastic feeling. There's a freedom there and a sense of wonder that, I'll tell you what, you all need to experience."

    Just before reaching the high point of the trajectory today, Binnie, 51, rotated, or "feathered," SpaceShipOne's main wing sharply upward in a procedure designed to produce enormous aerodynamic drag on re-entry. The feathered wing, another Rutan innovation, caused the spaceplane to re-enter the atmosphere belly first in a so-called "care free" orientation similar to that of a badminton shuttlecock.

    The procedure worked flawlessly last Wednesday, helping damp out what remained of SpaceShipOne's unplanned rolling motion, and it worked flawlessly again today. After enjoying three-and-a-half minutes of weightlessness at the top of his ballistic trajectory, Binnie endured more than 5 "Gs" as SpaceShipOne plunged back into the denser atmosphere.

    The 24-minute flight ended with a flawless landing at the Mojave airport at 1613 GMT (11:13 a.m. EDT), where Rutan, Microsoft co-founder Allen, Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson and a throng of X Prize officials, sponsors, VIPs, journalists and well wishers waited.

    "The last thing I said to Brian before we closed up the door around 6 o'clock this morning was to use the driver, keep your head down and swing smooth," Rutan said after landing. "I'd like to say to Brian right now: Nice drive."

    An X Prize trophy and a check for $10 million will be presented to Allen and Rutan during a Nov. 6 ceremony in St. Louis.

    Today's flight was a triumphant moment for Allen, who pumped more than $20 million into the project, and for Rutan, whose relentless assault on the high frontier will long stand as a testament to the sort of daring, innovative engineering and sheer determination that marked the early days of American aviation.

    As usual, Rutan took the opportunity to make a dig at NASA, which he refers to as "that other space agency."

    "Quite frankly, I think the big guys, the Boeings, the Lockheeds, the nay-say people at Houston, they probably ... think we're a bunch of home builders who put a rocket in a Long Easy," he said, referring to one of his recreational aircraft designs. "But if they ... got a look at how this flight was run and how we developed the capabilities of this ship and showed its safety, I think they're looking at each other now and saying, 'We're screwed.'"

    Said Allen: "It's very hard for me to express how proud I feel of Burt and his team, the pilot, the guys in mission control and the other people at Scaled who made this happen. It's really an incredible feat of technology.

    "I've been involved with technology for a while but this is really amazing," he said. "This is rocket science. This is real first-class, top-line rocket science executed with an incredible degree of precision. This flight couldn't have been any smoother."

    If X Prize founder Peter Diamandis is right, Rutan's accomplishment and the efforts of other X Prize participants will spur the same sort of competition and innovation that fueled the development of the commercial airline industry. Except this time around, the goal is outer space.

    "We've let the genie out of the bottle," he said in an interview Sunday. "We're at the beginning of an industry here. We're going to have investors coming in, there's a multi-billion-dollar market that's beginning and Wall Street and the venture capital community can see that.

    "When capital comes in, there'll not only be one ship flying, there will be a dozen different ships, the price will go down, reliability will go up and we'll begin an industry. It happened in aviation, it happened in the personal computer marketplace, there's no reason in the world why it's not going to happen here in the personal spaceflight market."

    The identity of the pilot for today's launch was not revealed until a few hours before the flight. A graduate of the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, Binnie has more than 4,600 hours of flying time in 59 different aircraft, including the F/A-18, the A-7E, the White Knight and SpaceShipOne. He holds master's degrees in aeronautical engineering and fluid mechanics and is a veteran of 33 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm.

    Binnie, whose fighter pilot call sign was "B-squared," was at the controls last December when he made the first supersonic flight in SpaceShipOne. Encountering a roll oscillation during landing, one of the craft's landing gear collapsed.

    Melvill flew SpaceShipOne into sub-orbital space during a June test flight and he was at the controls last week for the first of the two X Prize launches. Given his experience dealing with the unexpected roll during that flight, Melvill seemed a natural choice to make the second flight today. But as usual, Rutan did not immediately explain his choice of pilots.

    To win the Ansari X Prize, SpaceShipOne had to make two flights in two weeks carrying the weight of three passengers to demonstrate a commercially viable turnaround time.

    In both cases, only a pilot was on board. The total required weight - 270 kilograms, or 595 pounds - was made up of the pilot, video documentation equipment and personal items selected by the staff at Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, and the X Prize foundation, including Rutan's college slide rule, a teddy bear that will be auctioned off for charity and seedlings.

    And, on the first flight, the ashes of Rutan's mother. Otherwise, Rutan said, "we are not flying things that will end up on eBay and be sold or dealt with in any commercial nature at all," Rutan said before the first flight. "There's only a couple of things that are charity related, the rest are things the person who flies it has signed an agreement with us that he will not sell it, that it is for him and his family."

    With public transport, in space or otherwise, comes government regulation and in this case, that falls to the Federal Aviation Administration. Rutan has complained in the past about the slow pace and high cost of the regulatory process, which he says disuades investors.

    But FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told CBS News she believes the process will, in fact, be streamlined as the industry develops and the technology matures.

    "Regulation absolutely will get more efficient," she told CBS News. "For one thing, we learn a lot, we're working closely in partnership with industry and we're getting their feedback. But there's no question about the fact that as you have more launches, you begin to see things that are not a problem and you set those aside.

    "And the regulations themselves, in terms of things like the environmental requirements, will be streamlined better, we'll do things simultaneously with other agencies, building on work that's already been done. i think all of this is going to get a lot simpler and smarter. And from the regulator's standpoint, that's what we've got to do."

    Blakey is bullish on the future of commercial manned spaceflight, saying the success of SpaceShipOne will make many people realize "you actually could write a check and go pretty soon, that's a big deal."

    "Yes, it will only be available to folks with a fair amount of money initially," she said. "But I think competition in this country is going to drive the price and cost down. Things like the X Prize put a lot of momentum behind it because year after year, there are going to be more competitors out there putting people into space."

    The Ansari X Prize was funded through Jan. 1 with a so-called "hole-in-one" insurance policy. The premium was financed with private donations and corporate sponsorships. The prize was created to "jump-start the space tourism industry through competition among the most talented entrepreneurs and rocket experts in the world," according to a foundation fact sheet.

    Major sponsors include the Ansari family, the Champ Car World Series, 7-Up, M&Ms, First USA and other organizations. Allen's company, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, plans to license the technology developed by Scaled Composites to Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group.

    Virgin Galactic plans to open next year and begin launching commercial rocket flights for private citizens in 2007. Tickets are expected to run around $200,000 initially, although Rutan said last week he expects the price to drop dramatically as more companies enter the commercial spaceflight arena.

    "I have a hell of a lot bigger goal than they do," Rutan said today of NASA and the large aerospace companies. "And you know what that goal is? I absolutely have to develop a manned space tourism system for Sir Richard Branson that's at least a hyundred times safer than anything that's ever flown man into space and probably a lot more. I have to do that.

    "What you see here is a research and dev program to look at new ideas on how manned spacecraft can really be significantly safer. And that was with this new type of hybrid motor, which is significantly safer, and that was with our feathered re-entry, which is a significantly safer way to fly to space. And there'll be new ideas out there.

    "We will be developing new ideas also in SpaceShipTwo," he said. "We are going to build on a research program and I believe that coming right out of the bag, the first space tourism business will be considerably safer than the original airliners that started flying people a long time ago. I'm very confident in that now."

    Diamandis agreed.

    "When I was a kid, the Apollo era was going on and the expectation was that we'd all have a chance to go," Diamandis said. "But of course, that never was the mission of NASA, to take the public into space. it's the mission of private industry. But now that we've jump started this private industry with Scaled Composites and many of the other 26 Ansari X Prize teams, we are going to see industry making it possible for all of us to go into space.

    While initial flights will be sub orbital, Diamandis believes commercial manned flights to low-Earth orbit are just around the corner.

    "We're going to bridge that gap from sub orbital to orbital flight and I think that's going to happen well within 10 years," he said. "But once we're in orbit, we're two thirds of the way to anywhere. And we'll have private teams building ships to go to the moon and to go to Mars.

    "It's in our genes. We are explorers in our hearts. And all we have to do is get the roads to space built and that's what we're doing right here in Mojave, we're building the roads, the personal, private roads to space."

    Asked if she might sign up for a commercial space flight someday, Blakey laughed, saying "I'd love to fly on this thing because I love to fly. But I have a feeling it's going to be a while before I'll have the cash to get involved. So will I be in the line? Yes, but I'll be probably pretty far back."

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-01-04

    10/01/2004 7:00:29 PM PDT · 8 of 9
    petuniasevan to Colonel_Flagg

    Sure thing, Colonel!

    (By the way --- watch out for those Commies! They're everywhere!)

  • USAF plans space wars, world's space hardware gets nervous

    10/01/2004 6:53:23 PM PDT · 18 of 29
    petuniasevan to RightWhale

    Have a look at this.....

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-01-04

    10/01/2004 3:30:31 AM PDT · 2 of 9
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...

    YES! You too can be added to the APOD PING list! Just ask!

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 10-01-04

    10/01/2004 3:21:27 AM PDT · 1 of 9
    Music rings of Saturn
    Posted: September 29, 2004

    Looking something like the fibrous bow of a violin, Saturn's colorful rings sweep through this spectacular natural color view while two small moons look on.

    Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
    Download larger image version here

    From left, the moons visible here are Janus (181 kilometers, or 112 miles across) and Mimas (398 kilometers, or 247 miles across). Cassini's view in this image is from beneath the ring plane; the moons are on the far side of Saturn. Janus leads Mimas as the two moons orbit the planet.

    Nearly the entire ring system can be seen in this view. The diaphanous C ring appears at the upper right, followed by the multi-hued B ring. Next, the famous Cassini division (4,800 kilometers, or 2,980 miles wide) separates the A and B rings. The outer edge of the B ring which forms the inner boundary of the Cassini division is maintained by a gravitational resonance with Mimas. Near the outer edge of the A ring are the Encke Gap (325 kilometers, or 202 miles wide) and the barely visible Keeler Gap (35 kilometers, or 22 miles wide). The faint, thread-like F ring is discernible just beyond the main rings.

    The image was obtained with the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera on August 27, 2004, at a distance of 9.1 million kilometers (5.6 million miles) from Saturn. Images taken with red, green and blue filters were combined to create this color view. The moons have been enhanced in brightness to increase their visibility. The image scale is 54 kilometers (34 miles) per pixel.

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras, were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day 09-30-04

    09/29/2004 10:14:41 PM PDT · 3 of 11
    petuniasevan to MozartLover; Joan912; NovemberCharlie; snowfox; Dawgsquat; Vigilantcitizen; theDentist; ...
    Site went down just as i tried to post this ping..sigh..

    YES! You too can be added to the APOD PING list! Just ask!