‘Mystery-Missile’ – Likely an Airplane

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What took place in the skies above California’s coastline Monday, Nov. 8? That is still being hotly debated by experts and laymen alike. What appears to be a missile firing some 35 miles off the coast of California, near the Island of Catalina appears in a KCBS news chopper footage. The Pentagon has stated that it does not know what is displayed in the images. But instead of mystery, intrigue and government coverup, there is likely a more ordinary explanation: it was an optical illusion.

The Boeing Co. every so often will deploy aircraft from San Nicolas Island. These flights are part of an anti-missile laser testing program. However, the company has announced that it had nothing in the air on Monday. According to the Orange County Register, a very similar contrail was noted off of California Coast just one year earlier.

One possible explanation for the mysterious ‘plume’ is that it was the test firing of a new commercial space rocket – there has not been any confirmation of this.

While experts at Globalsecurity.org say that more than likely what is being viewed in the video is an aircraft and its contrail approaching the camera. That matches up with what scientists that have come forward have stated – that this is nothing more than the contrail made from a jetliner. In short, this whole sensation may have been caused over an optical illusion. One caused by a large aircraft, the sunset and the odd angle that the helicopter that collected the footage was shooting from.

Moreover, local radar did not pick up any fast-moving objects during the time of the ‘launch.’ In fact, in most of the footage the ‘missile’ or ‘rocket’ appears to barely move. For those that regularly follow launches only a single snippet of the video appears to show the fiery exhaust of a rocket – but this could also be the glint of sunlight off of metal.

According to the American Aerospace Defense Command, “there is no indication of any threat to our nation.” Neither NASA nor the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were quite as forthcoming, as these organizations did not immediately release information regarding the incident. Both the U.S. Air Force and Navy have stated that they were not responsible for whatever caused the vapor trail.

This is not the first time plane contrails have been mistaken for rocket launches. See the website Contrail Science for more information and to see similar previous events.

Super Star Smashes into the Record Books.

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The discovery of a super massive neutron star has thrown our understanding of stellar evolution into turmoil. The new star, called PSR J1614-2230 contains twice the mass of the Sun but compressed down into a star that is smaller than the Earth (you could fit over a million Earth’s inside the Sun by comparison). It is estimated a thimbleful of material from the star could weigh more than 500 million tons — that equates to about a million airliners. The study has cast serious doubt over how matter reacts under extreme densities.

The study by a team of astronomers using the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico focussed its attention on the star which is about 3,000 light years away (the distance light can travel in 3,000 years at a speed of 300,000 km per second). The stellar corpse whose life ended long ago is now rotating at an incredible speed, completing 317 rotations every second. Its emitting an intense beam of energy from its polar regions which just happens to point in the direction of us here on Earth. We can detect this radiation beam as it flashes on and off like a celestial lighthouse. This type of neutron star is classed a pulsar.

Artist impression of Pulsar
Artist impression of Pulsar

Rather fortuitously, the star is part of a binary star system and is orbited by a white dwarf star which completes one orbit in just nine days. Its through the measurements of the interaction of the two which gave astronomers the clue as to the pulsar’s mass. The orbit of the white dwarf takes it between the beam of radiation and us here on Earth so that the energy from the beam has to pass close by the companion star. By measuring the delay in the beam’s arrival caused by distortion of space-time in the proximity of the white dwarf, scientists can determine the mass of both objects. Its an effect called the Shapiro Delay and its simply luck that the orientation of the stars to the Earth allows the effect to be measured.

Dave Finley, Public Information Officer from NRAO told Universe Today ‘Pulsars are neutron stars, whose radiation beams emerge from the poles and sweep across the Earth.  The orientation of the poles (and thus of the beams) is a matter of chance. We just got very lucky with this system.’

The discovery which was made possible by the new ‘Green Bank Ultimate Pulsar Processing Instrument (GUPPI) was able to measure the pulses from the pulsar with incredible accuracy and thus come to the conclusion that the star weighed in at a hefty two times the mass of the Sun. Current theories suggested a mass of around one and a half solar masses were possible but this new discovery changes the understanding of the composition of such stars, even to the subatomic level.

Neutron stars or pulsars are extreme objects at the very edges of the conditions that matter can exist. They really test our knowledge of the physical Universe and slowly but surely, through dedicated work of teams of astronomers, we are not only learning more about the stars above our heads but more and more about matter in the Universe in which we live.

Mark Thompson is a writer and the astronomy presenter on the BBC One Show. See his website, The People’s Astronomer, and you can follow him on Twitter, @PeoplesAstro

Source: NRAO

STS-133 Crew Conducts TCDT Training

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The crew for the last mission for space shuttle Discovery spent the week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center conducting the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test or as it is more commonly know – TCDT. The crew arrived Tuesday, Oct. 12 and immediately set to work. This week of training is the last major milestone on the path to launch, currently scheduled to take place on Nov. 1 at 4:40 p.m. EDT.

TCDT consists of is training that simulates the final hours up until launch. This provides training for both the crew and the launch team. The launch team practices launch day timelines as well other, crucial flight-day procedures. The crew on the other hand went through a number of exercises that included:

• Rescue training – The astronauts will run through several simulations where they practice what to do in the event of an emergency. The crew will be instructed on how to use the emergency baskets that will allow them to escape the launch pad in case there is a fire. They will also learn how to operate the tank-like M113 personnel carrier and other emergency equipment.
• The commander in pilot will perform abort landings and other flight aspects in the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA). The plane is a Grumman Gulfstream II and it duplicates the shuttle’s approach profile and many of the orbiter’s handling qualities.
• Conduct a launch day simulation that includes everything that will happen on launch day – except the launch. The crew walked out in their bright orange launch and entry suits. TCDT also includes a simulated abort so that the crew is well-versed as to what do to in case of that scenario.

STS-133 crew members arrive at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in their sleek T-38 jets. Photo Credit: Universe Today/awaltersphoto.com

These activities allow the crew and flight teams to do a rehearsal of all the events that will take place on launch day.

“This is a dress rehearsal for the real flight so the crew is kind of peaked up; they’ve put all the sequence of events together, when they go out to the pad they’ll do everything except igniting the main engines,” said Robert Springer a two-time shuttle veteran. “It’s a chance to review all your procedures and make sure everything is in place.”

The crew of STS-133 consists of Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra, Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott. The crew is comprised entirely of space flight veterans.

NASA's official crew portrait of the crew of STS-133. Image Credit: NASA
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STS-133 is an 11-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) which contains, among other thing, the first humanoid robot to fly into space – Robonaut-2 (R2). Also onboard is the Express Logistics Carrier-4 and spare parts for the orbiting laboratory.

Springer’s first flight was on space shuttle Discovery and as he watched the crew for her final mission his thoughts reflected on his experiences and the end of the shuttle era.

“It’s going to be a little tough, my personal experiences that I have of Discovery and my memories that I have of that time make it a little bittersweet to realize that this will be the last time that Discovery will go into space.”

Attempt to Break Free-Fall Record Halted by Lawsuit

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An attempt to reach supersonic speeds during freefall has hit a snag as a promoter who says the stunt was originally his idea has filed a lawsuit against the Red Bull Stratos team. Daniel Hogan claims he pitched the idea of breaking a 50-year old freefall record to Red Bull in 2004, and that Red Bull said they weren’t interested, but later, the company went forward with the idea. Hogan has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the energy drink company, prompting Red Bull to stand down with the record-breaking attempt until the issue can be resolved.

Red Bull issued this statement today:

“Despite the fact that many other people over the past 50 years have tried to break Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger’s record, and that other individuals have sought to work with Red Bull in an attempt to break his record, Mr. Hogan claims to own certain rights to the project and filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit earlier this year in a Californian court. Red Bull has acted appropriately in its prior dealings with Mr. Hogan, and will demonstrate this as the case progresses. Due to the lawsuit, we have decided to stop the project until this case has been resolved.”

Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner had been scheduled to jump from a balloon at 120,000 feet and attempt a freefall jump that would, for the first time, reach supersonic speeds as well as, Red Bull says, deliver valuable scientific data. If successful, it would break a record set in 1960 by US Air Force captain named Joe Kittinger when he jumped from 31,000 meters (102,800 feet). His jump contributed valuable data that provided ground work for spacesuit technology and knowledge about human physiology for the US space program. There have been several attempts to surpass Kittinger’s record, but none have succeeded, and people have given their lives for the quest.

Kittinger has been supportive of Baumgartner’s attempt and appeared in this video with him.

Hogan says he pitched the idea to Red Bull as a “marriage of daredevil, record-breaking ‘stuntsmanship’ and cutting-edge technology.” After a year of talks, during which Hogan says Red Bull executives encouraged him to reveal the minutest details of the project, the company backed out.

In January this year, Red Bull announced the Red Bull Stratos dive, which Hogan said is precisely the project he pitched except for two things: the name was been changed and he was cut out of it.

Earlier this year, Hogan sought an injunction to halt the project, disgorgement of any profits and punitive damages. He also sought a declaration that Red Bull has certain, specific duties to him.

In his complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hogan claims the daredevil stunt would be worth $375 million to $625 million in advertising to any corporate sponsor.

Hogan claims his proposed dive would be made from 130,000 feet. He also said he had assembled a team that included Per Lindstrand, who holds the hot-air balloon altitude record, Dr. Coy Foster, a former NASA flight surgeon, Dr. Steve Lingard, an expert in the aerodynamics of the human body, filmmaker Slim McDonald, and a Russian company that agreed to develop the spacesuit.

Hogan claims that in meetings, emails and other communications Red Bull received specifications for the gondola to be used, the spacesuit, the timeline for developing and testing the equipment, and a list of potential corporate partners.

But on Oct. 13, 2005, Hogan says the company sent him an email stating that “after a very detailed investigation of your proposal, we finally came to the conclusion that we would not like to continue our joint work on the space Dive project.”

Hogan says Red Bull never acknowledged his idea nor has it offered to compensate him for his contributions or sought permission to use information that he disclosed in confidence.

Sources: Red Bull Stratos, Courthouse News Service

Breaking News: Small NEO Could Pass Within 60,000 km of Earth on Tuesday

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A small asteroid will likely pass very close to Earth this week Tuesday. Astronomers are still tracking the object, now designated as 2010 TD54, and various estimates say it could possibly come within anywhere from 52,000 km (33,000 miles) to 64,000 km (40,000 miles) on October 12, with closest approach at approximately 11:25 UT. Information on the IAU Minor Planet Center website lists the object as coming with 0.0003 AU. The size of the object has not been determined, but estimates say it is likely smaller than 10 meters. We’ll provide an update as soon as more information is available.

UPDATE: Don Yeomans, Manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office replied to an inquiry about the object and said the newly discovered NEO 2010 TD54 is approximately 5-10 meters in size, and is now predicted to pass about 46,000 km from Earth’s surface at about 07:25 EDT (11:25 UT) on Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010. It was discovered by Catalina Sky Survey on Saturday morning.

“Only 1 in a million chance of an impact,” Yeomans said, “and even if it does impact, it is not large enough to make it through the Earth’s atmosphere to cause ground damage.”

The object may be visible to amateur telescopes as a 14th magnitude “star” — it will be traveling through the constellations Pisces and Aquarius.

Sources: IAU Minor Planet Center, Unmanned Spaceflight,Yahoo News Groups