Space & Astromomy Earth - scientists estimate 100billion, trillion planets exist where life could flourish. I was 7 years old when Sputnik 1 was launched into space by the former USSR, now Russia and neighbouring states. I was enralled. Even today, when I look at the night sky, I marvel that is the same that friends all over the world saw a few hours before, or will see in a few hours.
See: http://english.cntv.cn/news/space/index.shtml for excellent Space coverage with some stunning images.
Satellite eye on Earth: September 2011 - in pictures
Ice islands in the
Atlantic, blocked river valleys in Pakistan and salt lakes in the
outback were among the images captured by the European Space Agency and Nasa satellites last month
The Åland Islands (also known as the
Aaland Islands) lie at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia, between
Sweden and Finland. The archipelago consists of several large islands
and roughly 6,500 small isles, many of them too small for human
habitation. Åland vegetation is a combination of pine and deciduous
forest, meadows, and farmed fields. On nearly every island, however, the
region’s characteristic red rapakivi granite appears
NASA's newest 3-D photos are the latest in a long line of spectacular images of the star at the center of our planetary system
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2048103,00.html#ixzz1RyhbZyKY
Atlantis Returns From Final Mission Of Space Shuttle Program
Atlantis Returns From Final Mission Of Space Shuttle Program
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - JULY 21:
Space Shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center July 21, 2011 in
Cape Canaveral, Florida. Atlantis was the shuttle final mission for
NASA, ending the 30 years of the shuttle program. (Photo by Joe
Raedle/Getty Images) 21/07/2011
1 of 43
Final countdown: The space shuttle's last ever mission
Thirty years after the first blast-off, David Usborne reports from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, on the end of an era
The first lift-off of Atlantis in 1985
Dotted across the sprawling campus that is
the John F. Kennedy Space Centre in Florida are blue and white signs
designed to get the thousands of workers here pepped up. "1 Days to
Launch", they declared yesterday above an image of the NASA shuttle.
But they might have read "1 Days to Pack up your Bags".
It is 30 years since the first shuttle, Columbia,
lifted off from its pad here at Cape Canaveral and opened a new chapter
in an American space romance that began a decade earlier with the
Apollo flights. The mission about to be undertaken by the shuttle will
be number 135 and the last. For the first time in half a century, the US
will have no means on its own to fire humans to the stars.
shuttle swansong will begin, of course, only when Florida's thundery
weather allows. The launch is scheduled for this morning, US time. But
as hundreds of thousands of onlookers swarmed to Florida's Space Coast
last night, rain fell in chain-mail curtains and the forecast was
ominous. Bad conditions, officials said, presented a 70 per cent chance
of delaying today's lift-off until Saturday or Sunday.
Whenever it begins, the last flight of Atlantis
will trigger bittersweet emotions here. Even for those tourists cramming
the parks and shores to watch the white bird soar on its thick thread
of smoke it will, as one NASA spokesman put it, be a "bucket-list"
moment, never to be experienced again.
as the digital countdown directed from Mission Control in Houston ticked
down, a sense of nostalgia was filling the press centre. Even reporters
who have been covering launches for years weren't shy to have their
pictures taken beside a vintage space suit brought into the filing
centre for the occasion.
The Atlantis voyage –
the cargo hold has been crammed with supplies to keep the International
Space Station going for at least another year – marks the conclusion of a
wind-down process started in 2004 when then President George Bush
ordered the whole shuttle fleet retired. President Barack Obama
inherited plans to replace it with the Constellation programme to return
to the moon, but last year he ditched it.
generations of Americans, NASA has been an acronym for national pride
through frontier-breaking innovation and pre-eminence in the race to
breach our planet's bounds. It was a race that was initially spurred by
American competition with the Soviets in the depths of the Cold War.
Some see irony – if not ignominy – in the reality that mothballing
Atlantis will present. For the next several years, any American
astronauts deployed to the Space Station will have to hitch a ride on
the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
"Right now, we are
dependent upon Russia, and I do find that unseemly for the United
States," Mike Griffin, a former NASA administrator, noted mournfully. "I
find that unseemly in the extreme." And it is not just those "Days to"
signs that will have to be taken away here at the Space Centre. Swathes
of employees here – from engineers to welders and even to the guy who
drives the huge crawler vehicle used to transport the shuttles from its
towering hanger to the pad – will see their careers suddenly ended. A
few months ago 17,000 people worked here; weeks after this mission only
about 1,000 will remain.
NASA officials insist
that America's space story is not over. The Obama blueprint for the
agency envisages a future with deep-space exploration becoming the main
focus, theoretically putting human footprints on Mars and asteroids, if
not in this decade then hopefully by the mid-2020s (although getting to
Mars may take 10 years longer). But to most Americans, this goal seems
murky and undefined.
In the shorter term, NASA
must adjust itself to getting help from private contractors to restore a
direct link to the Space Station. A handful of companies, including
SpaceX Boeing and Sierra Nevada, are developing space vehicles first to
take cargo and then astronauts to the station on behalf of NASA, perhaps
beginning as soon as 2015. NASA hopes some of their development work
will happen here at Canaveral.
glides back to earth, NASA will celebrate a span of 30 years that saw
tragedy with the explosion 73 seconds after lift-off of Challenger in
January 1986 and the disintegration of Columbus upon re-entry in
February 2003. The price tag for each NASA trip has averaged out at
about $1.5 billion.
But the shuttles kept the
thrill of space travel alive. It became commonplace to see astronauts
weightlessly conducting experiments in the dark ink of space or chatting
to school children from their living quarters via satellite. One
astronaut played his saxophone for us. Senator John Glenn, one of the
original Mercury astronauts, rode a shuttle back to space aged 77 in
1998. Perhaps most importantly, it was a shuttle that deployed the
Hubble Telescope, giving us sparkling new glimpses into our solar
Yet when this mission is over, NASA
will be like a spacecraft without proper instruments, fishtailing its
way forward to a place not yet properly identified and with money that
may never be available to it.
This astronaut photograph, taken from the
vantage of the International Space Station (ISS), shows the the space
shuttle Atlantis streaking across the atmosphere
Comet's Death by Sun Photographed for First TimeBy Tariq Malik , SPACE.com Managing Editor Space.com | SPACE.com –
The death of a comet
that plunged into the sun was captured on camera this month for the first time in history, scientists say.
The comet met its fiery demise on July 6 when it zoomed in from behind
the sun and melted into oblivion as it crashed into the star. It was
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a satellite orbiting Earth that studies the sun, which witnessed the comet's death-blow.
One of the SDO spacecraft's high-definition imagers "actually spotted a
sun-grazing comet as it disintegrated over about a 15 minute period
(July 6, 2011), something never observed before," SDO officials said. [See the observatory's image of the comet death]
Comets have been spotted near the sun before, but last week's object
was the first to be observed in real-time as it disappeared.
"Given the intense heat and radiation, the comet simply evaporated away completely," SDO officials said.
The comet was a type known to astronomers as a sun-grazing comet because its path brought it extremely close to the sun.
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a joint NASA-European Space Agency spacecraft, also spotted the comet's demise and recorded a video of the event.
"This is one of the brightest sun-grazers SOHO has recorded, similar to the Christmas comet of 1996," SOHO project scientist Bernhard Fleck said in a statement.
SOHO officials said that, because of the angle of the comet's orbit, it
passed across the front half of the sun and appeared to brighten as it
struck hotter particles above the solar surface.
Sun-grazing comets are relatively common and are also known as Kreutz comets, after the 19th century astronomer Heinrich Kreutz who first showed they were related.
Astronomers suspect that Kreutz comets all began as a single, giant comet that broke apart several centuries ago.
You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
Moon to turn blood red this evening as UK experiences total lunar eclipse
Daily Mail Reporter 15th June 2011
Sky watchers in the UK will be hoping
for a cloudless sky this evening so they can get the best view of the
longest total lunar eclipse since 2000.
The dramatic event will turn the moon blood red for 100 minutes during the period of totality.
But Nasa warned Europeans will miss the early stages of the eclipse 'because they occur before
A total lunar eclipse in Japan, 2007: During
totality light only reaches the moon through Earth's atmosphere,
back-scattering blue light and making it appear red
The eclipse beings at 6.24pm (BST) and ends at midnight but sunset doesn't occur in the UK until 9.19pm.
People in the
eastern half of Africa, the
Middle East, central Asia and western Australia will be able to enjoy
the entire event. However, those in the U.S will miss out as the eclipse
will occur during daylight hours.
The moon is normally illuminated by the Sun. During a lunar eclipse the
Earth, Sun and Moon are in line and the Earth’s shadow moves across the
surface of the full moon.
This graph shows when the total lunar eclipse will be visible on Earth
Sunlight that has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere makes the moon appear red, brown or black.
The moon travels to a similar position
every month, but the tilt of the lunar orbit means that it normally
passes above or below the terrestrial shadow. This means a full moon is seen but no
eclipse takes place.
Scientists predict rare 'hibernation' of sunspots
by Kerry Sheridan
Tue Jun 14, 5:38 pm ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – For years, scientists have been
predicting the Sun would by around 2012 move into solar maximum, a
period of intense flares and sunspot activity, but lately a curious calm
has suggested quite the opposite.
According to three studies released in the United States on Tuesday,
experts believe the familiar sunspot cycle may be shutting down and
heading toward a pattern of inactivity unseen since the 17th century.
The signs include a missing jet stream, fading spots, and slower
activity near the poles, said experts from the National Solar
Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory.
"This is highly unusual and unexpected," said Frank Hill, associate
director of the NSO's Solar Synoptic Network, as the findings of the
three studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American
Astronomical Society's Solar Physics Division in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
"But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in
the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be
going into hibernation."
Solar activity tends to rise and fall every 11 years or so. The solar
maximum and solar minimum each mark about half the interval of the
magnetic pole reversal on the Sun, which happens every 22 years.
Hill said the current cycle, number 24, "may be the last normal one for
some time and the next one, cycle 25, may not happen for some time.
"This is important because the solar cycle causes space weather which
affects modern technology and may contribute to climate change," he told
Experts are now probing whether this period of inactivity could be a
second Maunder Minimum, which was a 70-year period when hardly any
sunspots were observed between 1645-1715, a period known as the "Little
"If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we'll see for a
few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to
Earth's climate," said Hill.
Solar flares and eruptions can send highly charged particles hurtling
toward Earth and interfere with satellite communications, GPS systems
and even airline controls.
Geomagnetic forces have been known to occasionally garble the world's
modern gadgetry, and warnings were issued as recently as last week when a
moderate solar flare sent a coronal mass ejection in the Earth's
The temperature change associated with any reduction in sunspot activity
would likely be minimal and may not be enough to offset the impact of
greenhouse gases on global warming, according to scientists who have
published recent papers on the topic.
"Recent solar 11-year cycles are associated empirically with changes in
global surface temperature of 0.1 Celsius," said Judith Lean, a solar
physicist with the US Naval Research Laboratory.
If the cycle were to stop or slow down, the small fluctuation in
temperature would do the same, eliminating the slightly cooler effect of
a solar minimum compared to the warmer solar maximum. The phenomenon
was witnessed during the descending phase of the last solar cycle.
This "cancelled part of the greenhouse gas warming of the period
2000-2008, causing the net global surface temperature to remain
approximately flat -- and leading to the big debate of why the Earth
hadn't (been) warming in the past decade," Lean, who was not involved in
the three studies presented, said in an email to AFP.
A study in the March 2010 issue of Geophysical Research Letters explored
what effect an extended solar minimum might have, and found no more
than a 0.3 Celsius dip by 2100 compared to normal solar fluctuations.
"A new Maunder-type solar activity minimum cannot offset the global
warming caused by human greenhouse gas emissions," wrote authors Georg
Feulner and Stefan Rahmstorf, noting that forecasts by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have found a range of 3.7
Celsius to 4.5 Celsius rise by this century's end compared to the latter
half of the 20th century.
"Moreover, any offset of global warming due to a grand minimum of solar
activity would be merely a temporary effect, since the distinct solar
minima during the last millennium typically lasted for only several
decades or a century at most."
NASA Spacecraft Snaps 1st Photo of Mercury from Orbit
This story was updated at 5:32 p.m. ET.
The first spacecraft ever to circle Mercury has beamed home the
first-ever photo taken of the small rocky planet from orbit, showing a
stark landscape peppered with craters.
NASA's Messenger spacecraft snapped the new Mercury photo today (March
29) at 5:20 a.m. EDT (0920 GMT). The photo shows the stark gray
landscape of southern Mercury, a view that is dominated by a huge impact
crater. [See the first photo of Mercury from orbit]
"This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about
the solar system's innermost planet," Messenger mission scientists
explained in a statement.
The new Mercury photo shows a region around the south pole of Mercury. A
53-mile (85-kilometer) wide crater called Debussy clearly stands out in
the upper right of the image, with bright rays emanating from its
center. [More photos of Mercury from Messenger]
A smaller crater called Matabei, which is 15 miles (24 km) wide and is
known for its "unusual dark rays," is also visible in the image to the
west of the Debussy crater, mission managers explained.
The new Mercury photo was posted to the Messenger mission website managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is overseeing the flight for NASA.
The photo is the first of 363 snapshots Messenger took during six hours
of observations around Mercury. The images are expected to cover
previously unseen areas of Mercury, terrain that was missed by Messenger
during three previous flybys before it entered orbit.
Messenger arrived at Mercury on March 17, more than 6 1/2 years after its launch from Earth.
The spacecraft paused in its Mercury photo reconnaissance work just
long enough to beam the new images back to Earth, mission managers said.
"The Messenger team is currently looking over the newly returned data,
which are still continuing to come down," Messenger mission scientists
NASA plans to hold a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday to
review the latest Mercury discoveries by the Messenger probe. The
spacecraft's name is short for the bulky moniker MErcury Surface, Space
ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.
The $446 million Messenger probe is expected to spend at least one Earth year studying Mercury from orbit.
The spacecraft is in an extremely elliptical orbit that brings it
within 124 miles (200 kilometers) of Mercury at the closest point and
retreats to more than 9,300 miles (15,000 km) away at the farthest
The primary science mission phase will begin on April 4, when Messenger
will start mapping the entire surface of Mercury, a process that is
expected to require around 75,000 images. Scientists hope the spacecraft
will help answer longstanding mysteries over the planet's geology,
formation and history.
While Messenger is the first mission ever to orbit around Mercury, it
is not the first spacecraft to visit the planet. NASA's Mariner 10
spacecraft flew by the planet three times in the mid-1970s.
Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
Nasa spacecraft orbits Mercury
For the first time, Nasa has put a spacecraft in orbit around the solar system's smallest planet, Mercury.
Nasa said a spacecraft called Messenger
successfully veered into orbit on Thursday night after a six and a
half-year trip and 4.9 billion miles.
The desk-sized spacecraft fired its engine for 15 minutes before entering an egg-shaped orbit.
The mission required some tricky manoeuvring to fend off the gravitational pull of the sun.
"It was right on the money," Messenger's chief engineer Eric Finnegan said.
Messenger is in orbit that brings it as close as 120 miles above the planet's surface.
is as close you can possibly get to being perfect. Everybody was
whooping and hollering; we are elated," Mr Finnegan said. "There's a lot
of work left to be done, but we are there."
launched in 2004. Next month it should start transmitting pictures from
as close as 120 miles above the surface of Mercury, a strange planet of
Messenger will investigate Mercury's mysterious magnetic
field and the possibility of ice in craters, even though it is the
closest planet to the sun.
A Nasa Twitter account under
Messenger's name gave play-by-play accounts as it arrived at the small
planet. This "Messenger" "exchanged tweets" with Voyager 2, one of
Nasa's oldest and most-distant spacecraft. Voyager 2, launched in 1977
and now at the edge of the solar system, tweeted good luck and Messenger
"answered" with a tweet: "Many thanks! Cold out there? Kinda warm where
The final countdown and the end of an era
The last journey of 'Discovery' represents the grounding of Nasa's ambitions
By Guy Adams Friday, 25 February 2011
Discovery blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida last night. The shuttle is manned by six astronauts
Five men, one woman, and a gold-faced robot with a passing resemblance to the
Star Wars character C-3PO went through their final countdown last night, as
the world's oldest and most-travelled space shuttle blasted into orbit round
the Earth for one last time.
After 150 million miles and a combined total of almost 50 weeks of boldly
going, the 26-year-old Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Centre at
Cape Canaveral in Florida at 4.50pm local time to begin its 39th and final
The start of the 11-day trip to the International Space Station was
accompanied by all the usual bells and whistles of a major Nasa launch, from
a flag-waving crowd of 40,000 to endless press conferences from the
organisation's senior boffins.
But amid the pageantry, there was a hint of sadness: Discovery's last hurrah
doesn't just mark the retirement of a craft known to US astronauts as "the
champion of the fleet", it also hastens the demise of the shuttle as a
means of extra-terrestrial transportation.
The era-defining brand of spacecraft – which was given the go-ahead by Richard
Nixon, entered space under Ronald Reagan and outlasted the Cold Wa – is
scheduled to be shuffled off into retirement later this year, with the loss
of 7,000 jobs.
It is the victim of swingeing budget cuts at Nasa, combined with doubts about
safety which stretch back to the Challenger disaster of 1986, and became
seriously pressing after 1 February 2003, when Columbia disintegrated during
re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.
Mike Leinbach, the launch director, admitted before lift-off yesterday that it
will be "tough" to see Discovery go. "You'll see a lot of
people on the runway who will probably choke up some," he said. "It's
the end of a 30-year programme we've grown to love and appreciate and feel
like we're doing something special for the country and, really, the world."
Once Discovery returns, Nasa will prepare for April's scheduled final journey
of Endeavour, the shuttle which is due to include in its crew Mark Kelly,
the 47-year-old husband of the wounded Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle
Then, Nasa will formally end the era of the space shuttle on 28 June, when
Atlantis begins a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. After
that, America will find itself in the embarrassing position of having to
cadge lifts for astronauts in spacecraft owned by Russia. Nasa's long-term
plans, such as they are, involve private companies providing orbital
transport. Given such uncertainty, the demise of Discovery represents a
particularly sad moment. It has always been the most loved and trusted of
Nasa's fleet. It was chosen for Nasa's symbolically important first missions
after the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
This week's final flight has been arranged to ferry 1.75 tons of supplies and
spare parts to the International Space Station, most notably a humanoid
robot named "Robonaut 2", which has a gold face and stands a
little over 3ft tall.
The robot will work alongside human inhabitants of the station. At first, it
will carry out mundane tasks, such as cleaning. But engineers hope it will
eventually take over more dangerous and complex duties, including space
In one of the more unlikely scientific experiments to be carried out during
the trip, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada will tickle
the feet of Discovery's six crew members before take-off and immediately
after landing to identify which skin receptors are most influenced by
The mission was originally scheduled to begin in September, but was delayed by
problems with the fuel tank and the withdrawal of a crew member who crashed
Though originally conceived in the 1970s as an economical alternative to
rockets (they could complete multiple missions, while each rocket could only
fly once) they proved far less reliable, and more expensive than expected.
When the shuttle programme was launched, its architects envisioned that
American astronauts would fly a mission a week, launching satellites and
defence systems, and building vast space stations.
In the event, Nasa never managed more than nine or 10 shuttle flights a year.
Thousands of highly trained engineers were needed to maintain each craft in
the fleet, at a huge expense. Then there were the two disasters, in which 14
Discovery's future probably now lies as a museum piece: negotiations are under
way for it to be donated to the Smithsonian. "There is nothing better
than a real artefact, and Discovery has been an icon of human space flight
for 30 years," said Valerie Neal, curator of the institution's National
Air & Space Museum, who spoke to The Independent from the launch site
Up, up and away no more
August 1984 After four years in the making, Discovery is launched on
its maiden voyage to deploy three communications satellites.
April 1990 The Hubble Space Telescope, one of the most important
astronomical tools ever made, is carried and launched into orbit by
February 1994 Discovery becomes the first American space shuttle to
host a Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev.
February 1995 The shuttle becomes the first American spacecraft to dock
with the Russian space station Mir. This mission also sees Eileen Collins
become the first female space shuttle pilot.
February 2011 After performing 38 voyages, travelling 230 million
kilometres and orbiting the earth 5,628 times, Discovery launches for the
Solar storm 'could cause more damage than Hurricane Katrina'
A powerful solar flare hit the Earth last week – and experts are now warning that the next one could be catastrophic
By Steve Connor, Science Editor, in Washington
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
When it hit our magnetic field the solar flare generated magnetic storms and power surges
Havoc wreaked by a solar storm –
such as the one that occurred last week – could be equivalent to a
"global hurricane Katrina" that would cost up to $2 trillion dollars in
damage to communications satellites, electric power grids and GPS
navigation systems, scientists said yesterday.
Thursday's solar flare was the biggest
for four years and ejected billions of tons of matter travelling at a
million miles per hour towards Earth.
When it hit our magnetic field it
generated magnetic storms and power surges which disrupted
communications and grounded flights.
Senior government advisers have warned
that the world has never been more vulnerable to the effects of such an
events, which buffets the complex and delicate electronic technology
that now controls almost all aspects of modern society.
An increasing reliance on
electronic equipment, such as GPS satellite navigation and the computers
controlling smart grids for electricity distribution, has meant that
solar storms can now produce unprecedented damage on a global scale,
Professor Sir John Beddington, the
government's chief scientific adviser, said that the growth in the use
of complex electronic machinery over the past 10 years has made society
far more susceptible to catastrophic disruption than a decade ago when
the last solar activity cycle reached its peak."Space weather has to be
taken seriously. We've had a relatively quiet period of space weather
and we expect that quiet period to end," Sir John told the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
"At the same time, over that period
the potential vulnerability of our systems has increased dramatically,
whether it is the smart grid in our electricity system or the ubiquitous
use of GPS systems," he said.
The approximately 11-year solar
cycle is now emerging from one of its quietest periods in 50 years and
is expected to reach a solar maximum in 2013, when the number of solar
flares on the Sun which generate electromagnetic storms reaches a peak.
"[Last week's] event was the
strongest solar flare in four years and as a consequence airlines
re-routed flights away from polar regions in anticipation of the
possibility that their radio communications would not be operable," said
Jane Lubchenco, the head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). "In addition to that, communications problems
were reported on flights from Hawaii to southern California and the
flare disrupted communications in parts of the western Pacific region
"Clearly this is something we need
to take seriously. That particular event was not a very serious one, but
as we enter a period of higher solar activity it is reasonable to
expect more and more events and they may vary in magnitude," she said.
"This is an area that we're
beginning to pay much more attention to, not only because we are
entering a solar maximum, but because so much more of our technology is
vulnerable than was the case even 10 years ago when we had the last
solar maximum," she added.
Thomas Bogdan, director of the
Space Weather Prediction Centre in Boulder, Colorado, said that GPS
systems are highly vulnerable to the massive bursts of electromagnetic
radiation from the Sun, which energise the charged particles of the
"That ionosphere sits between us
and the GPS satellites and the thicker that ionosphere, the longer the
time delay between the GPS satellite and when you pick it up," Dr Bogdan
said. "In the worst-case situation, on the day-lit side of the Earth,
we could see the loss of GPS not only for navigation but for its
critical timing capability used in business transactions."
About 10 or 20 hours after the
initial blast of electromagnetic radiation, a second burst of
high-energy charged particles will hit the Earth.
These have the ability to induce
dangerous electric currents in power lines and oil pipelines, Dr Bogdan
said. A 14-year-old early-warning satellite is the only way of directly
detecting the potential magnitude of the danger this wave of charge
particles within a solar storm poses to pipelines and electronic systems
on Earth, he said. "Any storm coming from the Sun has to pass over that
spacecraft before it hits Earth. If it takes 20 hours to go from the
Sun to Earth, it's going to take about 20 minutes to go from that
spacecraft to Earth. So our last warning is a 20-minute warning, which
will tell us how big, how strong, how nasty that storm might be," he
told the meeting.
"The trouble is, it's 14 years old
and what keeps me awake at night is worrying about whether that
satellite would be running next morning when I get up," he said.
Sir John Beddington added: "There
are two things we need to be thinking about. We need to think about
prediction – the ability to categorise and give warning about when
particular types of space weather is likely to occur. The second is
about engineering. Thinking about particular sectors and their
vulnerability to particular types of space weather – that is a
complicated issue and we need to think hard about how to do that," he
"What is absolutely critical is
that we do have to take space weather seriously. This is an
international issue and it is international collaboration that is how we
are going to deal with it."
Could 'supermoon' next week disrupt Earth's weather?
Moon comes at its closest approach for 19 years
It promises a unique photo opportunity for amateur astronomers.
Earth will next week be at its closest point to the moon since 1992.
The March 19 event - known as a 'lunar perigee' - will see the moon pass just 221,567miles away from our planet.
Earth will be at its closest point -
some 221,567 miles away - to the moon in 19 years on March 19. Some
fear the 'lunar perigee' will affect our climate pattern
But the Internet is awash with conspiracy-minded amateur scientists
warning that such a 'supermoon' could disrupt Earth's climate patterns
and may even cause earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Previous supermoons took place in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005 - all years that had extreme weather events.
The tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in
Indonesia happened two weeks before the January 2005 supermoon. And on
Christmas Day 1974, Cyclone Tracy laid waste to Darwin, Australia.
Previous supermoons took place in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005 - all years that had extreme weather events
But Pete Wheeler of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy
said to treat any warnings of an impending apocalypse with scepticism.
'There will be no earthquakes or volcanoes erupting, unless they are to happen anyway,' he told news.com.au.
'The Earth will experience just a lower than usual low tide and a
higher than usual high tide around the time of the event, but nothing to
get excited about.'
Australian astronomer David Reneke agrees, pointing out that
conspiracy theorists will always be able to find a natural disaster to
link to a certain time and blame it on a supermoon.
He told the website: 'If you try hard enough you can
chronologically associate almost any natural disaster or event to
anything in the night sky - comet, planet, sun.
'Remember in the past, planetary alignments were going to pull the
sun apart. It didn't happen. Astrologers draw a very long bow most
'Normal king tides are about all I would expect out of this supermoon prediction.'
Coincidence? Banda Aceh, Indonesia, was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami which took place two weeks before a supermoon
Whatever does or doesn't happen, we are still learning about the moon all the time.
In January, it emerged that signals from seismic sensors left on
the lunar surface by Apollo astronauts in 1971 have revealed that the
moon has a liquid core similar to Earth's.
Scientists at Nasa applied contemporary seismological techniques to
the data being emitted from sensors placed by their colleagues during
the U.S. space program's heyday.
The research suggested the moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner
core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily
liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles.
Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles.
The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo - a natural
process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own
strong magnetic field.
At night: Image shows the two huge cities of
Beijing and Tianjun in China lit up. They have a combined population of
approximately 19 million people. The areas which are not lit up are
largely agricultural. Beijing is to the upper left, while the smaller
city of Tianjin to the right - with an estimated seven million
population - is a major trade centre
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1344731/The-amazing-photos-life-Earth-taken-space-Nasa-European-Space-Agency-satellites.html#ixzz1AqlrkStJ
Scientists to clean up space junk with 'fishing net' 2011.02.01.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration
Agency has paired up with a top fishing giant to launch a revolutionary
net to catch space debris endangering space vehicles. Skip related content
The proposed Space Debris Removal System is currently being developed and could be launched into space within two years.
Experts say that tens of millions of debris particles in space from
unused space exploration equipment to larger remnants of derelict
satellits and rocket stages cause extensive damage to operational
satellites and spacecraft.
William Jeffs, NASA spokesman for the Astromaterials Research and
Exploration Science Directorate at the Johnson Space Center in Houston
discussed the extent of the problem. He told Yahoo! News: "Space debris
is big a concern because spacecraft and The International Space Station
carrying humans onboard have to be maneuvered to avoid hitting debris."
JAXA and Nitto Seimo, the company behind the net have been working
together on the system for six years and hope to counter the issue by
loading a thin several-kilometre-long metal net, known as an
'electrodynamic tether' onto a satellite and launching it into space.
Once the satellite is in orbit, the net which is made of three
silver-coloured threads one millimetre in diameter and tied together
with fibres as thin as human hair- can be attached to a piece of space
debris using the satellite's robot arm. The tether would then be
detached along with the tip of the arm and as the net orbits Earth, it
would become charged with electricity.
Eventually interaction with the Earth's magnetic field would create
a force that gradually draws the net back towards Earth which would
re-enter our atmosphere and burn up inside.
Nitto Seimo's technical division has been trialling different net
material for years. Technician Koji Ozaki told a Japanese news site:
"Unlike fishing nets, which are made of materials such as nylon, it is
difficult to mesh nets made of hard metal. Some unusable failures have
torn into shreds, but eventually we were able to make a usable tether."
Dr William Jeffs responded to Japan's efforts. He said:
"Initiatives to reduce space debris are underway in both the US and the
international space community. But thus far no proposed solution to
reduce the amount of space debris has been proven to be both
technologically feasible and financially viable. We will just have to
wait and see."
Written by Gaby Leslie
Nasa space telescope spots odd new solar system
Nasa has announced the discovery of a strange new solar system with six planets orbiting around a sun-like star.
The discovery is mystifying astronomers and illustrates just how much variety is possible in the universe.
Five of the planets were found to be in a closer orbit to their star than any planet in Earth's solar system.
really were just amazed at this gift that Nature...has given us. And
with six transiting planets, five so close to their star, and getting
the size and masses of these five fairly small worlds, there's only one
word that I can think of that adequately describes the new finding we're
announcing today - supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," Nasa scientist
Jack Lissauer said at a news briefing in Washington DC, referring to the
word made famous in the 1964 Disney movie, "Mary Poppins."
team at Nasa and a range of universities has named the system Kepler-11,
after the orbiting Kepler space telescope that spotted it.
star resembles Earth's own sun. But five of the planets orbiting it are
packed into a space equivalent to the distance between Mercury and Venus
in our own solar system.
Astronomers have now found more than 500
exoplanets. Most are giant, because they are so far away that only the
biggest are detectable. But some researchers are certain there are
Earthlike planets out there.
Nasa hails 'significant step' in search for habitable planets
A rocky planet about the size of Earth discovered orbiting a star outside our
solar system has been hailed as a "significant step" in the search for
habitable worlds similar to our own.
This NASA artist's concept shows the
smallest star known to host a planet, called VB 10b. The planet, named
Kepler-10b, is about 1.4 times the size of Earth Photo: AFP
Kepler-10b, which was found by Nasa's Kepler space telescope, has an estimated
temperature of more than 1,370C (2,500F), which is hot enough to melt iron.
But even though it is far too close to its sun for life to survive, the
discovery of the smallest planet to be detected outside our solar system was
nevertheless described by scientists as a major breakthrough.
The planet, which is about 1.4 times the size of Earth and completes a full
orbit of its Sun once a day, could represent another step in the search for
other habitable planets, scientists claimed.
Douglas Hudgins, Kepler programme scientist at Nasa, said: "The discovery of
Kepler 10-b is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to
"Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find
showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the
promise of many more to come."
16 Jul 2010
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- 12 Jan 2011
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- 12 Jan 2011
Natalie Batalha, a professor at San Jose State University and member of NASA's
Kepler Mission, said that there is evidence of another potential planet in
the same star system, but little is yet known about it.
She said: "There is actually already a very compelling signature of another
potential planet in this system.
"There is a transit event that recurs once every 45 days and is suggestive of
a planet a bit larger than two times the radius of the Earth."
The findings were described in the Astrophysical Journal.
Solar eclipse wows millions around the world... but is obscured by cloud across most of Britain
- Partial eclipse visible in East Anglia and on the south coast
People hoping to catch a glimpse of
a solar eclipse this morning were left disappointed after clouds
covering Britain blocked out the celestial event.
The dramatic sight of the Moon
passing between the Sun and Earth could be witnessed in parts of East
Anglia and the south coast of England, as well as across the globe.
But the majority of the country
remained swathed in cloud, meaning the UK's first partial solar eclipse
since August 2008 was hidden from view.
Hamble, Hampshire: A partial solar
eclipse was visible on England's south coast, as the moon covered the
sun at around 8.10am. The majority of Britain had its view of the
phenomenon obscured by cloud
Locon, northern France: The partial
eclipse extended across much of Europe this morning. The greatest
eclipse will occur over the city of Skelleftea in north-east Sweden,
where the moon will block out almost 90 per cent of the sun
In London, where the eclipse ended
at 9.31am, approximately 67 per cent of the sun was covered, although
clouds obscured the event.
This compared to just under 70 per
cent in Liverpool and Plymouth, while Glasgow reached 40 per cent and
the Western Isles just 15 per cent.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN ECLIPSE OF THE SUN?
A solar eclipse takes place when the moon lines up between the sun and the Earth.
This casts a lunar shadow on the Earth's surface and obscures the solar disk.
During a partial solar eclipse, only part of the sun is blotted out.
Today's partial eclipse was visible across much of the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and central Asia.
It began in the skies over Northern Algeria, the first location to witness the phenomenon at 6.40am GMT.
Western Europe woke up to the sunrise eclipse as it extended across much of the content.
In Madrid, a little less than half of the sun's diameter was covered, whereas in Paris this coverage extended to 65 per cent.
The greatest eclipse occur later in
the morning over the city of Skelleftea in north-east Sweden, where the
moon blocked out almost 90 per cent of the sun.
In central Russia, north-west China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the phenomenon will take place at sunset.
A plane is silhouetted against the partial eclipse over the cloudy skies of Barcelona
The celestial event produces a
dazzling sight over Dinslaken, Germany. The greatest eclipse will occur
over the city of Skelleftea in north-east Sweden, where the moon will
block out almost 90 per cent of the sun
A solar eclipse takes place in the
skies over Studencice, Slovenia. Northern Algeria was the first location
to witness the celestial event at 6.40am GMT
In cloudy winter skies over Jerusalem, the sun appeared to have a bite taken out of its upper right section.
ECLIPSES TO COME IN 2011
- June 1 - Partial solar eclipse across Siberia, northern Canada, and Greenland
- June 15 - Total lunar exlipse across Eastern Hemisphere
- July 1 - Partial solar eclipse across southern Antarctic Ocean
- November 25 - Partial solar eclipse visible from southern tip
of Africa after sunrise and from Tasmania and southern New Zealand
- December 10 - Total lunar eclipse the western U.S. and Canada
But in Britain skywatchers were barely able to witness the eclipse at all.
Among those thwarted by the
overcast conditions were members of the Newcastle Astronomical Society,
who set up telescopes and recording equipment to capture the phenomenon
at St Mary's Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
But the cloud remained stubbornly in front of the Sun and the astronomers went away with nothing.
The last total eclipse of the sun visible from Britain took place in August 1999.
There will be three other partial solar eclipses in 2011, but none of them will be seen in the UK.
The cloudy conditions over Britain at least reduced the chances of eclipse-watchers damaging their eyesight.
Scientists warned that looking directly at the sun for even a few seconds could cause permanent impairment to vision.
Dame Sally Davies, the Government's
Interim Chief Medical Officer, had called on parents to make sure their
children understood the dangers.
Secret powers? A paralysed boy is
buried up to his neck in sand by his parents in Hyderabad, Pakistan,
following a doctor's recommendation that light from the eclipse could
Magical moment: Venezuelan tourists watch the partial eclipse in front of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt
Safety first: Israelis watch the eclipse in the town of Givatayim near Tel Aviv
She said: 'Children are
particularly vulnerable as they may be tempted to take a peek. We would
urge parents to explain the danger to their children.
'We would not wish to see another
case like the young boy who lost his central vision back in October 2005
through looking directly at a partial eclipse in his school
playground.'Medical experts said the safest way to watch an eclipse is on the television or live webcasts on the internet.
Observing such an event directly through a telescope, binoculars or camera is not safe under any circumstances.
Dame Sally added: 'Under no circumstances should people look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse.
'The risks of doing so are very real and could lead to irreversible damage to eyesight and even blindness.'
Even viewing a partial eclipse through sunglasses or photographic film is also 'wholly inadequate', experts warned.
They said only specially designed solar filters bearing the appropriate CE mark can be used to view the eclipse directly.
Telescopes ready: Members of the
Newcastle Astronomical Society wait at St Mary's Lighthouse in Whitley
Bay as overcast skies prevented a view of the eclipse
Growing dark: People in south-east
England were the first in Britain to experience the partial eclipse; at
9.10am it was taking place over the rest of the UK
Different phases: Today's partial
solar eclipse as seen from the Zugspitze mountain near
Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany
Nasa to put a robot on the moon 'in just 1,000 days'
NASA has unveiled plans to put a robot on the moon for a fraction of the cost of sending a human.
Engineers claim that in
just 1,000 days they can safely build and fire a humanoid-like machine
into space and onto our nearest planet.
It would cost less than
$200million (£124million), plus $250million (£156million) for the
rocket, substantially less than the $150billion (£93billion) it would
be to send an astronaut.
The engineers behind it
also hope that the sight of a robot walking on the Moon would inspire a
new generation of scientists, just as the Apollo landings did 40 years
The space shuttle Discovery is lit by early morning sunlight on Pad 39A this morning
Project M has been
considered a ‘guerrilla effort’ by NASA engineers due to the lack of
official enthusiasm for returning to the Moon.
As a result they have had
to use discretionary funds, barter with engineering companies, trade
with specialists and persuade NASA units to co-operate.
In one case an engineer
even went to a hardware store to buy $80 (£49) worth of materials to
enable him to test the fuel tank on a prototype aircraft.
The driving force behind the project was Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
Faced with shrinking
budgets, he wanted something that could be achieved quickly without
getting bogged down in red tape. When he shared his idea with
colleagues it caught on like 'wildfire' and they have not looked back.
The team found that
sending a robot to the Moon is far easier than sending a person - it
does not need air or food and there is no return trip.
Robonaut 2 is set to head into space on board Discovery
The project has also been helped by building on existing technology and modifying it rather than starting afresh.
Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors, will be on board the shuttle Discovery, which is due to liftoff today.
That will be the first
humanoid robot in space and will deal with the housekeeping chores so
the astronauts can focus on their work.
A prototype landing
aircraft was provided by Armadillo Aerospace, a tiny Texas engineering
company, and it has already flown 18 times.
The only drawback seems
to be that the robot’s capabilities will be limited compared to what a
human can do - even if the sight of it will be inspirational.
So far $9million has been spent on the programme, and NASA is watching closely to see how it pans out.
R. Matthew Ondler, Project M’s manager, said that the thousand day deadline was chosen to add some pressure.
‘It creates this sense of urgency,’ he said. ‘NASA is at its best when it has a short time to figure out things.
You give us six or seven
years to think about something, and we’re not so good. Administrations
change and priorities of the country change, and so it’s hard to
sustain things for that long.’
Asteroid impact warning to the world
Asteroid impact warning to the world
Scientists and astronauts have been holding a three-day workshop in Germany, discussing how countries would react.
Rusty Schweickart is a former Apollo 9 astronaut and now head of
the European Sapce Agency's committee on near-earth objects (NEOs): "
What we need to do is bring the world together, recognise that this is
a global threat. This is not Germany or the United States or ESA or
anybody else. This is a global threat."
The conference in the city of Darmstadt is considering theoretical but plausible scenarios of an asteroid impact on our planet.
"The question often arises in the general public: Can we in fact
do something about this. And the answer is yes. We don't even have to
develop new technologies. Our existing space technology enables us to
actually slightly change the orbit of an asteroid that we see headed an
impact 15 or 20 or 50 years ahead of us."
The workshop's finding will later be merged with findings of other
experts to create a final report to the UN committee. The report will
recommend how to react to an impact threat
US space shuttle programme faces its final countdown
Discovery will take off on one of its final missions. Why, 30 years
after the reusable rocket launcher threatened to make travel beyond
Earth commonplace, did the project fall from grace?
The space shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station in October 2007. Photograph: NASA/AP
On the morning of 12 April 1981, astronauts Robert Crippen and John
Young took the lift to the top of the launch tower at complex 39A at
Cape Canaveral in Florida and strapped themselves into their seats on
the space shuttle Columbia. The pair were about to fly the world's first reusable rocket launcher, a 100-tonne chunk of revolutionary space technology. This was the first time Nasa had put men on an untested launcher and the nerves of its staff were by now severely strained.
For hours, engineers had been pumping hundreds of thousands of
gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen into Columbia's fuel tanks. When
combined, the two elements would generate more than a million pounds of
thrust. A further kick would then be provided by two huge solid fuel
boosters containing a highly explosive mixture of aluminium powder and
The countdown reached its final moments, the point at which,
according to former Nasa chief Daniel Goldin, "your breathing slows,
your heartbeat becomes noticeable and an uncomfortable muscle tension
fills your body". And he was just an observer.
Slowly, the minutes ticked away until, eight seconds before
lift-off, the shuttle's turbo pumps – each powerful enough to empty a
swimming pool in 20 seconds – started to force hydrogen and oxygen into
the spacecraft's three main engines, where the two elements combined
with unbridled ferocity. In seconds, temperatures in the engines soared
Super-heated steam – generated by the explosive marriage of
hydrogen and oxygen – erupted from the base of the spaceship; the
computer ignited the two solid boosters; the giant bolts which had been
holding the straining shuttle to the ground were blown open; and, at
just after midday, Columbia rose gracefully into the air on a pillar of
white vapour. Twenty years to the day that Yuri Gagarin had become the
first human in space after orbiting Earth in a Vostok capsule, America
had launched the first reusable spaceship.
For the next two days, Columbia circled the Earth. It was a bit
like camping, as Robert Crippen later recalled. "We ended up sleeping
in our seats and you had to pay attention to housekeeping, not to get
things too dirty." Then, after 37 orbits, the mission's pilot trimmed
Columbia's velocity, causing the spaceship to dip into Earth's
atmosphere and on to a perfect, unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force
base in California.
Columbia's flight was greeted with adulation. Its revolutionary
engines had worked perfectly despite the colossal, violent heat of the
combustion of its hydrogen and oxygen fuels, while its thermal
insulation tiles had survived the searing temperatures of re-entry. The
day of the expendable launcher was over. Space travel would soon be
At least that is what Nasa said would happen. In reality, what
occurred was a desperate disappointment. Flights of the shuttle –
despite its brilliant engineering – never became commonplace. Columbia
and its sister craft were supposed to make 50 flights a year, according
to Nasa launch manifests. But only 132 shuttle missions were flown
between 1981 and 2010, an average of 4.5 a year, a grimly inadequate
figure for a craft that "will revolutionise transportation into near
space by routinising it", as President Nixon announced in 1972.
Worse, two of the five shuttles that were built – Challenger and
Columbia – were destroyed in accidents that killed 14 astronauts. In
the wake of these tragedies, Nasa engineers became more and more
safety-conscious and launch costs soared from Nasa's estimate of $7m a
mission to almost $1bn. Thus the shuttle has become the costliest, most
dangerous transport system ever built.
Now it is to be scrapped. At Cape Canaveral, engineers are now
preparing to launch the shuttle Discovery, currently scheduled to blast
off tomorrow on its final mission – to the International Space Station.
There will be two more flights – Endeavour in February and Atlantis in
June. Then the shuttle fleet will be grounded.
But how could this fall from grace have occurred? What turned the
craft that soared so gracefully over Florida in April 1981 into a
redundant, dangerous orbiting dinosaur? These are key questions, for
until they are answered America (and the rest of the west which has
relied so much on the ability to put men into space) will find itself
floundering to find a role in space or a reason for being there. The US
has got lost in space and the failure of the shuttle carries much of
the blame. "The shuttle made America dependent on a fragile, expensive,
risky launch system," says space policy expert professor John Logsdon
of George Washington University. "It created the delusion of easy
access to space. Now we are paying the price."
At the end of the 60s, the US triumphed over its Soviet space
rivals because it spent vast sums on developing its huge Saturn V
launcher which could hurl a manned craft to the moon with ease. After
Apollo 11, Nasa asked that the Saturn V be allowed to ferry large
modules into orbit, where a space station could be constructed by 1975.
From there a Mars mission could be launched in the 1980s.
"President Nixon and his staff just looked at the plan and said,
'Are you kidding?'" says Logsdon, a white-haired, imposing but genial
figure. "They were not interested in such a programme because they
calculated it would do them no good in their term of office. They
wanted a faster fix."
Instead, says Logsdon, Nixon and his aides simply took a map of the United States
and looked at key states they needed to win to ensure victory in the
1972 presidential election. The decision came to set up a major
aerospace programme involving these states. Construction of a reusable
space shuttle, an idea that Nasa had also being toying with, fitted the
bill. The agency was ordered to prepare detailed plans – on a very
tight budget. The days of high spending on space were over and the
Saturn V, which had put Americans on the moon, was dumped.
Stuck with limited resources, Nasa was in trouble, Logsdon says,
and had to give up its original idea of launching the shuttle,
piggyback-style, on a specially designed, manned jet plane. Both
launcher and shuttle would have been reusable. Instead, to save cash
the shuttle would be strapped to huge tanks that would provide fuel for
its engines and to boosters that would provide extra thrust but which
would be dumped during launch. The shuttle was not therefore a fully
In addition, the agency wanted to use boosters that would burn
liquid fuel, a relatively stable configuration, but in the end had to
choose solid fuel boosters: an untested, less stable, but cheaper
option. For similar reasons, a crew escape system was scrapped.
Then there was the involvement of the military. To find funds for
the shuttle's development, Nasa asked defence chiefs to join in the
project and use the spaceship to put all their military and
surveillance satellites in orbit. The Pentagon agreed but insisted that
the shuttle be capable of flying giant payloads on flights over the
poles so that it could launch spy satellites to any part of the globe.
This requirement meant the shuttle would have to re-enter the
atmosphere on courses that needed far more robust, far heavier thermal
insulation. Starved of cash by Nixon's White House, the agency was
forced to agree.
"The shuttle was designed by a series of compromises to satisfy
too many demands and too many requirements from too many different
bodies," says Logsdon. "The result was a vehicle that could no longer
achieve the basic goals that had been set for it."
Nevertheless, for the first four years of its operations, the
shuttle – for all its flaws – operated well. It launched a total of 24
satellites, retrieved two broken communication satellites and repaired
another in orbit. In addition, it not only flew US astronauts, it
carried citizens of Germany, Mexico, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Holland
But pressure was mounting on engineers who were finding it
increasingly difficult to maintain the tight launch schedules imposed
by Nasa as it tried to keep shuttle operations cost-effective.
On 28 January 1986, the spacecraft's deficiencies were exposed
with deadly consequences. A seal in a booster of the shuttle Challenger
failed at lift-off. Pressurised hot gas sprayed over the craft's fuel
tank and the spaceship exploded 73 seconds into its flight. Binding
together fuel tanks and boosters had had grim consequences.
The US – an intensely self-conscious nation – reacted with horror and grief. I covered the tragedy for the Observer
and discovered Florida reeling in its wake. On the main road from the
Cape to Miami, all the neon-lit signs on the strip had been changed
from offers of cheap meals and lodging to messages: "May God protect
the shuttle crew"; "We pray for the Challenger astronauts". The
normally busy bars of Cocoa Beach, near the Cape, were empty. Locals
spent the days following the explosion on the beach, hunting in the
sand for any scrap of debris to hand over, desperate to feel that they
were, in some way, helping
At the time, Nasa insisted the crew had been killed instantly. But
the debris revealed a different story: several astronauts had survived
Challenger's initial break-up but, without an escape system, had
perished when their crew compartment crashed into the ocean. It was
also discovered that Nasa managers had disregarded warnings from
engineers about the dangers of launching after the Cape had experienced
near freezing temperatures the night before lift off. The cold caused
the breaking of the booster seal and doomed the flight.
After Challenger, the launch of commercial satellites from the
shuttle was halted; a number of major changes were made to Nasa
operations; and a replacement craft, Endeavour, was ordered. For its
part, the Pentagon simply abandoned the shuttle; it closed down its
special $3bn launch facility in California – without a single craft
having lifted off from it – to leave the spaceship lumbered with the
cumbersome thermal tiles that defence chiefs had insisted must be
fitted. "It's tragic. It made the shuttle far heavier than necessary –
but then there are so many tragic stories when it comes to the
shuttle," says Logsdon. In the end, it is estimated that the accident
cost the US a total of $12bn.
In September 1988, shuttle launches resumed with the lift-off of
Atlantis. Again, Nasa insisted it was dealing with a fully operational,
properly tested vehicle – and not an experimental craft, as it really
was – and so set up a stiff schedule of flights that later included
plans to ferry components to the International Space Station
(construction of which began in 1998).
And again the agency ignored the warnings. In 1989, the US Office
of Technology Assessment calculated there was a 50-50 chance of losing
another shuttle "within 34 flights", while the Augustine committee,
charged with investigating the future of the US space programme, warned
Nasa was "likely to lose another space shuttle in the next several
The agency took no action. This was a problem, says Scott Pace,
head of the Space Policy Institute in Washington, that could be traced
to a simple flaw. "Nasa was trying to do too much with too little for
too long a period because there was not a fundamental policy and
political rationale for what it was doing." In other words it was
pottering about in low Earth orbit with little purpose.
On 1 February 2003, the inevitable happened: Columbia
disintegrated over Texas after it had re-entered the atmosphere and was
preparing to land at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. This
time the cause was traced to a briefcase-sized piece of foam insulation
that had fallen from the shuttle's external tank during launch. The
debris had struck Columbia's left wing and damaged its thermal
protection. As the craft swept into the atmosphere, hot gases generated
by its passage through the atmosphere poured into the ship and
eventually broke it apart.
"After the Columbia accident, a lot of us had a reality check,"
says Pace, talking in his Washington office. "Yes, the shuttle was a
magnificent vehicle but surely it was done for now, we thought. The
American part of the space station had already been built by then but
not the European or Japanese components. So we asked our international
partners if they still wanted to proceed.
"To our surprise, they said yes, we should see it through if we
could. It was worth the risk. If they hadn't, that would have been the
end of the shuttle there and then."
So far, those last two dozen missions, which have left the space
station nearly completed, have gone well, with only three more to go.
What follows is more difficult to assess.
After the shuttle's final flight in June 2011, the US will have to
rely on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station, an
ignominious position for the winner of the space race. At the same
time, America's plans for a replacement launcher are shrouded in
uncertainty. President Obama cancelled the Constellation programme that
would have returned America to the use of expendable launch vehicles.
Instead, private launch companies, with US government support, will fly
missions to the space station, the president said. At the same time,
Nasa will pursue a new, undefined heavy launch system.
It is all very vague and unsatisfactory. Yet many senior space
officials refuse to put the whole blame for this confusion on the
shuttle. "It was not an unqualified success but equally it was not a
complete disaster," says Roger Launius, Nasa's chief historian. "The
real tragedy is that we stuck with the shuttle for 30 years."
This is key. The shuttle was a test craft that demonstrated most
but not all of the technology needed to create fully reusable
spacecraft. However, under White House pressure, Nasa treated it as a
fully operational craft.
"The shuttle should have been given an honourable retirement,
which it certainly deserves, in the 1990s, and from the lessons learned
a second-generation, fully reusable launcher would have been
constructed," says Launius. Professor Logsdon agrees: "The shuttle was
a first generation experiment in reusability and affordability. Not
replacing it in the late 80s or early 90s was a failure of national
Viewed from this perspective, Discovery's lift-off tomorrow should
be seen not as a triumph of high technology, but as the launch of an
old space bus that long ago served its purpose and which should have
been replaced by a craft that properly befits a nation with true
aspirations in space. "The trouble is that America doesn't know why it
is in space any more," adds Pace. "That is the real problem."
One thing is certain. Nerves at Kennedy Space Centre will be as
taut as they were for that first shuttle launch day in 1981. "Most
senior people at Nasa will be very happy to get this mission and the
next two flown safely and then send the vehicles gracefully into
museums," says Logsdon.
Exactly which museum will get a shuttle has yet to be decided,
though each will make a perfect monument: to engineering ingenuity –
and botched political decision-making.
China launches lunar probe
China has launched its second lunar exploration probe, boosting the country's efforts to rise as a major space power.
The Chang'e-2 orbiter blasted
off from a remote corner of the southwestern province of Sichuan on
Friday morning, according to state media. The probe is expected to fly
as close as 9.3 miles above the moon and take high-resolution photos of the Bay of Rainbows.
China is jostling with neighbours Japan and India
for a bigger presence in outer space but its plans have faced
international scrutiny. Fears of a space arms race with the United
States and other powers have mounted since China blew up one of its own
weather satellites with a ground-based missile in January 2007.
The Chang'e is named after a mythical Chinese goddess who flew to the moon.
A successful Chang'e-2 mission would mark another advance in
China's plan to establish itself as a space power in the same league as
the United States and Russia.
China launched its first moon orbiter, the Chang'e-1, in October
2007, accompanied by a blaze of patriotic propaganda celebrating the
country's technological prowess.
Moon may be shrinking, say scientists
Cracks in the surface of the moon suggest that our nearest neighbour in space is shrinking.
Like a deflating balloon, the satellite is contracting as its interior cools, scientists believe.
The discovery was made after a probe captured images of
unusual fault lines called "lobate scarps" in the lunar highlands.
Similar cracks were first seen in photos taken near the moon's equator
by the Apollo astronauts.
Fourteen new lobate scarps have now been identified by the Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers reported in the journal
Science. They were found mainly in the highlands, showing that the
lines are globally distributed. Experts believe the cracks were created
by rupturing of the brittle lunar crust as the moon shrank - a process
that appears to be geologically recent.
Spectacular meteor shower to grace British skies 10.08.2010.
stargazers can look forward to a dazzling meteor shower lighting up our
skies this week in what is predicted to be the most impressive of
annual celestial events.
experts say that as many as 100 shooting stars could fall every hour
during the spectacular show, hitting the earth at an incredible 140,000
mph before burning up in our atmosphere.
The storm of meteor
activity is set to peak on Thursday night alongside 'near perfect
viewing conditions.' Scots have the best chance of seeing the shower
clearly with Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park tipped as the place to be.
The highest rates of meteor activity are likely to be seen in the early
hours of Friday morning.
This year's event is said to be even
more spectacular because a new moon this week means there will be no
overpowering moonlight to spoil the show.
Nasa experts say the
stream of meteor activity is created from the earth travelling through
a river of debris from an ancient comet, producing a display of
shooting stars called the Perseids.
A Nasa spokesman told The Telegraph that'it promises to be one of the best displays of the year'.
Perseids meteor shower lights up night sky
Star-gazers witnessed the climax of one of the
year's most spectacular meteor showers last night as a new moon and
cloud-free night in some areas produced perfect conditions for seeing
Perseid meteor shower is sparked every August when the Earth passes
through a stream of space debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle
The display of shooting stars is created by debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.
While most of the
meteors are no bigger than a grain of sand, they create tremendous
amounts of heat when they hit the atmosphere at 135,000 miles per hour
The northern hemisphere offers the best views of the annual event,
beacuse of the tilt in the Earth's axis. Some of the meteors - named
after the Perseus constellation which provides their backdrop - are so
bright they can outshine the light-pollution in big cities, although
country-dwellers always get the best views.
Observers last night shared their sightings on Twitter, using the hashtag #meteorwatch and these will be plotted on a map by the British Astronomical Association and the Royal Astronomical Society.
'Monster star': R136a1 compared with our solar system
Zooming in on a monster: Three images which
shows how the astronomers zoomed in on the massive star, The cluster is
seen in the bottom right section of the third image