NASA Launches Super Balloon To Detect Cosmic Particles From Near Space

“After seven unsuccessful attempts NASA has launched a stadium-sized balloon in Wanaka,” reports the New Zealand Herald, adding that the super-pressure balloon will collect data from “near space” over the next 100 days. Reuters reports: The balloon, de…

“After seven unsuccessful attempts NASA has launched a stadium-sized balloon in Wanaka,” reports the New Zealand Herald, adding that the super-pressure balloon will collect data from “near space” over the next 100 days. Reuters reports: The balloon, designed by NASA to detect ultra-high energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, is expected to circle the planet two or three times. “The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?” Angela Olinto, a University of Chicago professor and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.

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Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the sys…

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it’s white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming — the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn’t well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.

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Broadband Expansion Could Trigger Dangerous Surge In Space Junk

A new study from the University of Southampton warns that expanding broadband networks via launching “mega constellations” of thousands of communications satellites could increase catastrophic crashes of dangerous space junk in Earth’s orbit. “Dr Hugh …

A new study from the University of Southampton warns that expanding broadband networks via launching “mega constellations” of thousands of communications satellites could increase catastrophic crashes of dangerous space junk in Earth’s orbit. “Dr Hugh Lewis, a senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton, ran a 200-year simulation to assess the possible consequences of such a rise in orbital traffic,” reports The Guardian. “He found it could create a 50% increase in the number of catastrophic collisions between satellites.” From the report: Such crashes would probably lead to a further increase in the amount of space junk in orbit, he said, leading to the possibility of further collisions and potential damage to the services the satellites were intended to provide. The European Space Agency, which funded Lewis’s research, is calling for the satellites planned for orbital mega-constellations to be able to move to low altitudes once their missions are over so they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. They must also be able discharge all batteries, fuel tanks and pressure tanks to prevent explosions that would scatter debris. Lewis is presenting his research this week at the European conference on space debris at the ESA’s center in Darmsadt, Germany. Krag said he expected some of the companies planning launches to attend.

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Scientists Capture First Image of Dark Matter Web

Kristine Lofgren writes: Scientists have long suspected that the universe is woven together by a vast cosmic connector but, until now, they couldn’t prove it. Now, for the first time ever, scientists have captured an image of a dark matter bridge, conf…

Kristine Lofgren writes: Scientists have long suspected that the universe is woven together by a vast cosmic connector but, until now, they couldn’t prove it. Now, for the first time ever, scientists have captured an image of a dark matter bridge, confirming the theory that galaxies are held together by a cosmic web. Using a technique called weak gravitational lensing, researchers were able to identify distortions of distant galaxies as they are influenced by a large, unseen mass — in this case, a web of dark matter. In order to create a composite image that shows the dark matter web, scientists had to look at more than 23,000 galaxy pairs located 4.5 billion light-years away. “Results show the dark matter filament bridge is strongest between systems less than 40 million light years apart,” reports Phys.Org. The findings have been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer’s Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin’s

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rock…

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin’s 108 minutes of fame — the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin’s craft, “was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species,” writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program’s chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union’s rocket program wasn’t revealed until after his death. “Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy,” McKie writes, “while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however.”

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The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer’s Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin’s

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rock…

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin’s 108 minutes of fame — the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin’s craft, “was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species,” writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program’s chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union’s rocket program wasn’t revealed until after his death. “Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy,” McKie writes, “while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however.”

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Public Crowd-sourcing Finds New Exoplanets

brindafella writes: A participant in a TV program “Stargazing Live” on Australia’s ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, repor…

brindafella writes: A participant in a TV program “Stargazing Live” on Australia’s ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, reported on Thursday’s show that four “Super Earth” planets had been identified in the data. They orbit closer to their star than Mercury does to our Sun. The person responsible for the find, Andrew Grey, is a mechanic by day and amateur astronomer in his spare time, and lives in the city of Darwin, Northern Territory. The data is sourced from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. “Stargazing Live” host Professor Brian Cox said he could not be more excited about the discovery. “In the seven years I’ve been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we’ve ever made. The results are astonishing.”

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Public Crowd-sourcing Finds New Exoplanets

brindafella writes: A participant in a TV program “Stargazing Live” on Australia’s ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, repor…

brindafella writes: A participant in a TV program “Stargazing Live” on Australia’s ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, reported on Thursday’s show that four “Super Earth” planets had been identified in the data. They orbit closer to their star than Mercury does to our Sun. The person responsible for the find, Andrew Grey, is a mechanic by day and amateur astronomer in his spare time, and lives in the city of Darwin, Northern Territory. The data is sourced from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. “Stargazing Live” host Professor Brian Cox said he could not be more excited about the discovery. “In the seven years I’ve been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we’ve ever made. The results are astonishing.”

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Begins Its Final Mission Before Plunging Into Saturn

NASA has announced that their Cassini spacecraft will begin its final mission before slamming into Saturn on April 23rd. The “final mission” consists of a series of dives through a 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. “No spacecraft has ev…

NASA has announced that their Cassini spacecraft will begin its final mission before slamming into Saturn on April 23rd. The “final mission” consists of a series of dives through a 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. “No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end.” The spacecraft will then dive into the gas giant’s atmosphere, where it will “break apart, melt, vaporize, and become a part of the very planet it left Earth 20 years ago to explore,” Cassini project manager Earl Maize said. Popular Science explains in its report why Cassini has to die: Some space probes are allowed to keep orbiting their targets in perpetuity after their mission ends — like the Dawn spacecraft at the dwarf planet Ceres. But things are a lot more complicated around Saturn. Whereas Ceres is essentially just a really big rock with no moons, Saturn has 62 satellites, at last count. The gravitational push and pull from those moons — especially the largest, Titan — wreak havoc on Cassini’s trajectory, which it normally corrects by burning fuel. But the spacecraft’s fuel is running out, and ultimately its fate is sealed by its own discoveries; scientists don’t want to risk the spacecraft crashing into Titan and Enceladus, which may be capable of supporting life. Although Cassini launched 20 years ago, experiments on the Space Station have suggested microbes can survive for years in the extreme temperatures, radiation, and airless vacuum of space. If NASA were to accidentally put water bears on Enceladus, the tiny Earthlings could potentially wipe out any native lifeforms that the moon may harbor, and/or complicate the search for those alien organisms later. This is why Cassini must die now, while NASA can still control its last swan dive.

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Researchers Detect A Mysterious Flash Of X-Rays From A Faraway Galaxy

“It was a spark in the night. A flash of X-rays from a galaxy hovering nearly invisibly on the edge of infinity. Astronomers say they do not know what caused it.” Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the New York Times:
The orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory…

“It was a spark in the night. A flash of X-rays from a galaxy hovering nearly invisibly on the edge of infinity. Astronomers say they do not know what caused it.” Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the New York Times:
The orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, was in the midst of a 75-day survey of a patch of sky known as the Chandra Deep Field-South, when it recorded the burst from a formerly quiescent spot in the cosmos. For a few brief hours on Oct 1, 2014, the X-rays were a thousand times brighter than all the light from its home galaxy, a dwarf unremarkable speck almost 11 billion light years from here, in the constellation Fornax. Then whatever had gone bump in the night was over and the X-rays died.
The event as observed does not fit any known phenomena, according to Franz Bauer, an astronomer at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and lead author of a report to be published in Science.

He described some possible explanation in a blog post this week — for example, a star being torn apart by a black hole, or the afterglow from a gamma ray burst seen sideways — but the spectrum readings aren’t a match, according to the Times. “None of the usual cosmic catastrophe suspects work.”

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