Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Random Picture #2

Another picture from NASA site. I will keep posting these, there is a lot of nice images there.

Click on the image to see in full-size. It's beautiful.

Explanation: This stunning vista represents the highest resolution image ever made of the Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31) at ultraviolet wavelengths. Recorded by NASA's Swift satellite, the mosaic is composed of 330 individual images covering a region 200,000 light-years wide. It shows about 20,000 sources, dominated by hot, young stars and dense star clusters that radiate strongly in energetic ultraviolet light. Of course, the Andromeda Galaxy is the closest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, at a distance of some 2.5 million light-years. Just slide your cursor over the image to compare the appearance of this gorgeous island universe in optical light with its ultraviolet portrait.

Spectacular Rocket Trail Lights Sky Dawn

The long, thin, beam of light rising up over the Californian coast looks like something from another world.

The Minotaur 1 rocket is carrying a spy satellite which will improve the ability of the U.S. to collect data in space.

This particular payload carries some of the work we do in techniques and methods to improve intelligence collection. All part of our work to keep improving the value of our data,' a spokesman for the National Reconnaissance Office told the Spaceflight Now website.

The rocket took off from Vandenberg U.S. Air Force Base at 4.26am local time amid clear skies, said Colonel Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander and the mission's leader.

The launch, which was scheduled for Saturday, had been delayed by 24 hours because of power problems with the rocket's safety equipment.

The four-stage, solid-fuelled rocket was carrying NRO equipment but officials gave no further details on the craft's purpose or cost.

More than 200 people from the 30th Space Wing, Orbital Sciences, the Space and Missile Systems Center and the National Reconnaissance Office worked on the project.

'I am extremely proud of the large group of professionals that came together to launch this rocket,' Colonel Boltz said in a statement.

The 63ft-tall Minotaur 1 is among the smallest of the many rockets that launch from the base 160 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

The rocket is assembled from retired Minuteman stages combined with technology from Orbital Sciences. It can carry up to 1,278lbs to low-Earth orbit.

The launch was the 20th Minotaur mission since the first one launched from Vandenberg in 2000.

The next Vandenberg launch will be a Taurus rocket, also made by Orbital Sciences, scheduled to carry a Nasa observation satellite into orbit on February 23.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Random Picture #1

Today I will post this beautiful picture that I found on NASA site. It is not very related to astronomy (there is Venus and the Moon in the sky, but nothing more than that). Anyway, I never said this blog would be about astronomy only. I also plan on posting some news and articles about technology, and other nice pictures.

Explanation: Sometimes a morning sky can be a combination of serene and surreal. Such a sky perhaps existed before sunrise this past Sunday as viewed from a snowy slope in eastern Switzerland. Quiet clouds blanket the above scene, lit from beneath by lights from the village of Trübbach. A snow covered mountain, Mittlerspitz, poses dramatically on the upper left, hovering over the small town of Balzers, Liechtenstein far below. Peaks from the Alps can be seen across the far right, just below the freshly rising Sun. Visible on the upper right are the crescent Moon and the bright planet Venus. Venus will remain in the morning sky all month, although it will likely not be found in such a photogenic setting.


Monday, February 7, 2011

We're Getting Closer


  • Aim is to gather knowledge and experience to help prepare for real Mars mission
  • This means probing the psychological and physiological effects of extended isolation
  • Project simulates outward cruise, landing operations and return journey to Earth
  • Over 100 experiments planned; crew partake in a series of medical studies
  • Resources restricted at departure; crew has to manage food consumption
  • Text communications only are possible with the ground; 20min delay in signal
The crewmembers will soon step out on a simulated Martian surface.

The crew of the Mars500 simulated mission to the Red Planet have reached a key milestone.

The six men, sealed since June inside steel containers representing a spacecraft, have "gone into orbit" at their destination.

Three of the group will now "descend" to the planet, don real spacesuits and walk on the "surface" of Mars.

In reality, this surface will just be the sandy floor of another module at the Moscow-based experiment.

The Mars500 project is run by Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems with the participation of the European Space Agency (Esa).

It aims to investigate some of the psychological and physiological effects that humans might encounter on a long-duration spaceflight.

"So far, I must say we've had no major problems," said Martin Zell, who heads up the Esa scientific programme on the International Space Station (ISS).

"There is permanent monitoring, so we understand their health very well. We have a lot of data now on their mental state and on how their bodies are reacting. That's important because there is a link between the two," he told BBC News.

The crew comprise three Russians, two EU citizens and a Chinese national.

Alexander Smoleevskiy, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Diego Urbina, Romain Charles and Wang Yue all had to pass through a rigorous selection procedure to get on the programme, and their "departure" on the grounded spaceship last year drew wide international attention and curiosity.

For eight months, the group has worked together inside the closed facility which has no windows and a total interior volume of about 550 cubic metres (19,423 cubic feet). 

The coming days will see Smoleevskiy, Urbina, and Wang enter a "descent module", from where they will have access to a further container that has been set up to look like the dusty terrain of Mars.

The trio will put on the type of spacesuit worn by real cosmonauts and simulate the sort of geological investigations future astronauts might pursue on the Red Planet one day. Three sorties are planned, with the first outing due to take place on 14 February.

A robot rover will assist the Mars walkers, and their activity will be overseen by Mission Control Moscow which normally deals with events on the ISS.

"They will go on to the surface two at a time, with one man staying behind in the landing module," explained Dr Zell.

"Working in their suits, they will have a drill to get below the surface; and they will do a virtual analysis of the samples the drill delivers to them. They will also take samples back to the module for further analysis."

Although the Mars500 experiment has not been able to simulate the constant weightlessness of a genuine eight-month journey through space, it has been able to introduce one important realism - that of a time delay in the communications between the crew and their ground controllers outside the modules.

Messages take 20 minutes to pass between the two ends of the link, similar to the lag radio messages travelling the great distance between Mars and Earth would come up against.

This proved particularly testing last month when controllers deliberately - and without warning to the crew - cut the power to the modules. They even blew a small amount of smoke into the containers to give the men inside the sensation that they were dealing with a serious electrical failure.

"They spent almost a day without energy," Dr Zell said. "They had to work through their emergency procedures and analyse the situation. They didn't panic and they remembered their training."

Mars500 is so called because it simulates the duration of a possible human Mars mission in the future using conventional propulsion: 250 days for the trip to the Red Planet, 30 days on the Martian surface and 240 days for the return journey, totalling 520 days. (In reality, it would probably take a lot longer than this.)

The six men are due "back on Earth" in November.


  • MEDICAL MODULE: A 12m-long cylinder that acts as the laboratory. Should a crewmember become ill, he can be isolated and treated here
  • HABITABLE MODULE: The main living quarters. The 20m-long module has beds, a galley, a social area. It also acts as the main control room
  • LANDING MODULE: This will only be used during the 30-day landing operation. Three crewmembers will visit the "surface"
  • UTILITY MODULE: It is divided into four compartments, to store food and other supplies, to house a greenhouse, a gym a refrigeration unit
  • SURFACE MODULE: To walk across the soil and rocks of Mars, crewmembers must put on Orlan spacesuits and pass through an airlock

    New Earths

    Five of the candidates are Earth-sized.

    The announcement from the Kepler space telescope team brings the total number of exoplanet candidates they have identified to more than 1,200.

    The data release also confirmed a unique sextet of planets around a single star and 170 further solar systems that include more than one planet circling far-flung stars.

    The Kepler telescope was conceived to hunt for exoplanets, staring into a small, fixed patch of the sky in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.

    It looks for the minuscule dimming of light that occurs when an exoplanet passes in front of its host star. Kepler spots "candidate" planets, which typically are confirmed by ground-based observations to confirm their existence.

    In just its first few months of operation, as a paper posted to the Arxiv server reports, Kepler has spotted 68 Earth-sized candidates, 288 so-called "super-Earths" that are up to twice Earth's size, 662 that are Neptune-sized, and 184 that are even larger.

    On Wednesday, members of the team announced it had confirmed the Kepler-11 solar system, comprising six large exoplanets tightly circling an eight billion-year-old star that lies about 2,000 light-years away.

    "The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki, who heads Kepler's science programme at Nasa's Ames Research Center.

    "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

    The bountiful nature of the data from just a few months of observing time from Kepler makes profound suggestions about the preponderance of exoplanets in general, and about the existence of multiple planets around single stars in particular.

    In a separate paper, team members outlined how the Kepler candidates include 115 stars that host a pair of planets, 45 with three, eight stars with four, one with five planets, and Kepler-11, which hosts six.
    "Even in first four months of Kepler data, a rich population of multiples appeared, and we recognised this was going to be a very important discovery," David Latham, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told BBC News.

    • Stares fixedly at a patch corresponding to 1/400th of the sky
    • Looks at more than 150,000 stars
    • In just four months of observations has found 1,235 candidate planets
    • Among them, it has spotted the first definitively rocky exoplanet
    • It has found 68 Earth-sized planets, five of which are in the "habitable zone"


    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    10 Facts you Didn't Know about Living in Outer Space

    1 - During one day you will experience 16 sunrises

    The sun rises and sets every 90 minutes in low Earth orbit, making it really hard to sleep well due to the absence of normal day/night cycles. To counteract this, ISS administrators set astronauts' schedules on a 24-hour, Earth-based timetable to keep their activity as grounded as possible. The clocks onboard the ISS are set to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), about halfway between Houston, Tex., and Moscow. To keep astronauts on that schedule, Mission Control sends wake-up calls to shuttle missions. They typically play music, which is either requested by an astronaut or an astronaut's family member. Astronauts on the ISS, on the other hand, wake up with the help of an alarm. 

    2 - You will grow taller 

    Without the compressive force of gravity, your spinal column expands and you grow taller, usually by between 5 and 8 cm. Unfortunately, the extra height can bring complications, which may include backache and nerve problems. 

    10 Most Fascinating Galaxies of our Universe

    1 - The Sombrero Galaxy

    The Sombrero Galaxy (also known as M104 or NGC 4594) is an unbarred spiral galaxy in the constellation Virgo. It has a bright nucleus, an unusually large central bulge, and a prominent dust lane in its inclined disk. The dark dust lane and the bulge give this galaxy the appearance of a sombrero. The galaxy has an apparent magnitude of +9.0, making it easily visible with amateur telescopes. The large bulge, the central supermassive black hole, and the dust lane all attract the attention of professional astronomers.

    2 - Black Eye Galaxy

    A spiral galaxy in the Coma Berenices constellation, Messier 64, the famous "Black Eye" galaxy or the "Sleeping Beauty galaxy," has a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus. It is well known among amateur astronomers because of its appearance in small telescopes.