Nozomi Has Failed

Image credit: JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has reportedly given up their efforts to have their Mars-bound spacecraft Nozomi reach the Red Planet. A solar flare in 2002 damaged the spacecraft’s electronics and prevented its thrusters from working properly. Engineers were working up until the last minute, but in the end they weren’t able to get the equipment working again. Nozomi will now follow a wide orbit around Mars and then slingshot out into space. Spacecraft from NASA and the European Space Agency will arrive at Mars over the next couple of months.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) today confirmed that the Japanese satellite Nozomi has been rerouted away from Mars by JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Crucial orbit insertion manoeuvers were impossible to achieve because of defective equipment onboard and the mission has been canceled. Nozomi will now follow a harmless large elliptic solar orbit.

Canada was a partner in this international Mars mission with a $ 5 million Canadian-built scientific instrument onboard — the Thermal Plasma Analyser (TPA). The TPA was designed to analyse the Martian atmosphere to better understand its origin and composition. The University of Calgary was leading the TPA research team and Canadian firms COM DEV International (Cambridge, Ont.), Pakwa Engineering (Saskatoon, Sask.), CAL Corp. (Ottawa, Ont.) and CompAS Electronics (Kanata, Ont.) were involved in the design and building of the instrument.

“This is not a total loss for the Canadian Space Program”, said Alain Berinstain, CSA’s acting Director of Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy. TPA has positioned Canada as a preferred supplier of state-of-the-art science and technology. It has opened doors to current and future collaborations with Japan and with other countries involved in the exploration of the solar system. Our thoughts are with our colleagues and friends from Japan and we look forward to working with them again in the future.”

In April 2002, on its way to Mars, NOZOMI had experienced a very strong solar energetic proton event associated with a strong solar flare. This caused a short circuit in one of the subsystems and a loss of telemetry signal, which made the Mars orbit insertion impossible.

Original Source: Canadian Space Agency News Release

Mars Express Has Nearly Arrived

After traveling for more than 400 million kilometres, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft has nearly arrived at the Red Planet. Things are about to get pretty busy. On December 19, the Beagle 2 lander will detach from the spacecraft and plunge through the Martian atmosphere six days later. At the same time that Beagle 2 is making its way down to the surface, the Mars Express orbiter will begin its aerobraking maneuvers to get into its final orbit around the Red Planet.

After a journey of 400 million km, ESA’s Mars Express is now approaching its final destination. On 19 December, the spacecraft is scheduled to release the Beagle 2 lander it has been carrying since its launch on 2 June.

At 9:31 CET, ESA’s ground control team at Darmstadt (Germany) will send the command for the Beagle 2 lander to separate from Mars Express. A pyrotechnic device will be fired to slowly release a loaded spring, which will gently push Beagle 2 away from the mother spacecraft.

Data on the spacecraft’s position and speed will be used by mission engineers to assess whether the lander was successfully released. In addition, the onboard Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) should provide an image showing the lander slowly moving away. The image is expected to be available mid-afternoon.

Beagle 2 will then continue its journey towards the surface of Mars, where it is expected to land on 25 December, early in the morning. At the same time, the Mars Express orbiter should be manoeuvring to enter into orbit around Mars.

In view of the complexity of this operation, the Mars Express control team has been trained to deal with the eventuality that separation might not be achieved at the first attempt. If that did turn out to be the case, there is a series of procedures that has already been set up and tested for completing the manoeuvre successfully within the subsequent 40 hours.

The “separation” event can be followed live at ESA/ESOC on Friday 19 December from 8:30 to 15:00. A videoconference will link the control centre at Darmstadt with ESA Headquarters in Paris (F), and ESA/ESRIN at Frascati (I). Media wishing to attend are asked to complete the attached reply form and fax it to the Communication Office at the establishment of their choice.

Highlights of this event will be streamed over the Internet at at the following times:

09:09 UT – 09:32 UT
11:25 UT – 11.47 UT
12:00 UT – 12:10 UT

As well as live streaming of key events, the Mars Express site will have daily news, features, images, videos and more.

Original Source: ESA News Release

SMART-1 at Full Speed

Image credit: ESA

The European Space Agency’s SMART-1 spacecraft is continuing to function well on its long roundabout mission to the Moon. The spacecraft recently completed its 139th orbit and everything seems to be functioning properly, despite the recent solar storms that damaged a few other satellites. It’s running its solar-powered ion drive full time now, and incrementally raising its distance with each orbit around the Earth. SMART-1 will reach its final orbit around the Moon in March 2005.

The spacecraft is now in its 139th orbit, in good operational status and with all functions performing nominally. As previously, the spacecraft was operated in electric propulsion mode almost continuously.

This week we had no flame-outs, probably due to the adopted strategy not to thrust when the orbital altitude is less than 10 000 km. The procedure to automatically re-start the engine after a flame-out will be uploaded to the on-board software this week. Once this is in place, the thrust phase will no longer be interrupted.

The total cumulated thrust time is now more than 946 hours and SMART-1 has consumed almost 15 kg of Xenon. Even with such a low fuel consumption the electric propulsion engine has so far provided a velocity increment of about 665 ms-1 (equivalent to about 2400 km per hour). The electric propulsion engine’s performance, periodically monitored from telemetry data and by ground stations tracking, continues to show a small over performance in thrust, varying from 1.1% to 1.5% over the last week.

The newly adopted strategy to thrust in a direction perpendicular to the position vector in the orbital plane has produced a large perigee increase in the last week of more than 1200 kilometres (see orbital elements and orbit picture).

The degradation of the electrical power produced by the solar arrays is now slowing down considerably. As a matter of fact the available power has remained more or less constant in the last 15 days. This means that the degradation by radiation has matched the increase of solar irradiance due to the nearing of the Earth’s perihelion, so that the net effect is zero. This is explained by the fact that no direct proton radiation from solar activity was experienced and the fact that the spacecraft now stays outside of the radiation belts for a considerable part of its orbit.

The communication, data handling and on-board software subsystems have been performing very well in the last week.

The thermal subsystem continues to perform well and all the temperatures are as expected. The temperature of the optical head on star tracker #1 is now lower than before. This is due to the changed thrust attitude which reduces the exposure to the Sun of the ?Z side of the spacecraft. Other attitudes are being considered in order to test the dependence of the star tracker’s temperature upon the spacecraft’s attitude.

Orbital/Trajectory information
The SMART-1 orbit is continuously modified by the effects of the electric propulsion low thrust. The osculating orbital elements are periodically computed by the ESOC specialists. These elements define the so called osculating orbit which would be travelled by the spacecraft if at that instant all perturbations, including EP thrust, would cease. So it is an image of the situation at that epoch. In reality the path travelled by the spacecraft is a continuous spiral leading from one orbit to another. The most recent osculating elements are as follows:

From the start, the electric propulsion system has managed to increase the semi-major axis of the orbit by 6750 km, increasing the perigee altitude from the original 656 km to 7012 km and the orbital period by more than four and a half hours, from the initial 10 hours 41 minutes to the present 15 hours 22 minutes.

Original Source: ESA News Release

Spring Thaws are Getting Earlier

Image credit: NASA

Using data from several NASA satellites, scientists believe that the Spring thaws in the Northern latitudes are arriving earlier and earlier each year. The change is so dramatic, that the thawing has come on average one day earlier each year since 1988. The shorter Winter warms up areas that were previously permafrost (permanently frozen), and this releases additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scientists are just starting to understand what role the polar areas have in the regulation of the Earth’s climate.

Using a suite of microwave remote sensing instruments aboard satellites, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Montana, Missoula, have observed a recent trend of earlier thawing across the northern high latitudes.

This regional thawing trend, advancing almost one day a year since 1988, has the potential to alter the cycle of atmospheric carbon dioxide intake and release by vegetation and soils across the region, potentially resulting in changes in Earth’s climate. The lengthening growing season appears to be promoting more carbon uptake by the vegetation than is being released into the atmosphere for the region. How long this trend will occur depends on whether soils continue to remain cold and wet.

Research scientists have been studying freeze/thaw dynamics in North America and Eurasia’s boreal forests and tundra to decipher effects on the timing and length of the growing season. These regions encompass almost 30 percent of global land area. They store a major portion of Earth’s carbon in vegetation, in seasonally frozen and permafrost soils. Large expanses of boreal forest and tundra are underlain by permafrost, a layer of permanently frozen soil found underneath the active, seasonally thawed soil.

“Frozen soil can store carbon for hundreds to thousands of years,” said lead author Dr. Kyle McDonald of JPL, “but when the permafrost thaws and begins to dry out, it releases the carbon back into the atmosphere.” The concern is that eventually carbon released from the soil will prevail over the amount being taken in by growing plants. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would increase at an accelerated rate, fostering even greater warming of the region and affecting global climate.

With help from NASA radars and other orbiting satellite microwave remote sensing instruments, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Special Scanning Microwave/Imager, scientists can monitor growing season dynamics of the global boreal forest and tundra daily. These instruments sense the electrical properties of water in the landscape, allowing scientists to determine exactly when and where the springtime thaw occurs.

Because of the large extent and location of boreal forest and tundra, and the global reservoir of carbon stored in their vegetation and soils, this region is extremely sensitive to environmental change. It has the capacity to dramatically impact Earth’s climate.

“If global climate change is happening, here’s where you would expect to see it first,” McDonald said.

As the research team observed, the earlier the spring thaw occurs, the longer the growing season. These changes appear to be promoting plant growth for the region. The longer growing season allows plants to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over a longer period of time.

Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas that, if left in the atmosphere, would promote additional warming. The plants release oxygen and store the carbon as biomass that eventually decomposes and transfers the carbon into the soil. Soil microbes decompose dead plant material, returning a portion of the soil carbon back into the atmosphere. The rate which soil microbes decompose plant material and release carbon to the atmosphere is also very sensitive to temperature. It could potentially increase with warming temperatures and longer growing seasons.

>From this general study, McDonald, Dr. John Kimball of the University of Montana, and JPL’s Erika Podest have lead three different investigations, each focusing on different noticeable changes in the boreal region. Results of three related papers on this research will be presented to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting this week in San Francisco.

The research is funded by NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise. The Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space. The California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages JPL for NASA.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Earthlike Worlds Could Be Fairly Common

Image credit: NASA

According to a new simulation by a team of University of Washington astronomers, Earthlike worlds could be more common that previously believed. The team performed 44 computer simulations of planet formations near a star, and found that an Earth-sized world was created nearly every time – and a terrestrial planet was in the star’s habitable zone 25% of the time. The simulations also showed that the orbits of gas giants in a system might decide how much water remains on a terrestrial planet.

Astrobiologists disagree about whether advanced life is common or rare in our universe. But new research suggests that one thing is pretty certain ? if an Earthlike world with significant water is needed for advanced life to evolve, there could be many candidates.

In 44 computer simulations of planet formation near a sun, astronomers found that each simulation produced one to four Earthlike planets, including 11 so-called “habitable” planets about the same distance from their stars as Earth is from our sun.

“Our simulations show a tremendous variety of planets. You can have planets that are half the size of Earth and are very dry, like Mars, or you can have planets like Earth, or you can have planets three times bigger than Earth, with perhaps 10 times more water,” said Sean Raymond, a University of Washington doctoral student in astronomy.

Raymond is the lead author of a paper detailing the simulation results that has been accepted for publication in Icarus, the journal of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. Co-authors are Thomas R. Quinn, a UW associate astronomy professor, and Jonathan Lunine, a professor of planetary science and physics at the University of Arizona.

The simulations show that the amount of water on terrestrial, or Earthlike, planets could be greatly influenced by outer gas giant planets like Jupiter.

“The more eccentric giant planet orbits result in drier terrestrial planets,” Raymond said. “Conversely, more circular giant planet orbits mean wetter terrestrial planets.”

In the case of our solar system, Jupiter’s orbit is slightly elliptical, which could explain why Earth is 80 percent covered by oceans rather than being bone dry or completely covered in water miles deep.

The findings are significant because of the discovery in recent years of a large number of giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn orbiting other suns. The presence, and orbits, of those planets can be inferred from their gravitational interaction with their parent stars and their effect on light from those stars as seen from Earth.

It currently is impossible to detect Earthlike planets around other stars. However, if results from the models are correct, there could be planets such as ours around a number of other suns relatively close to our solar system. A significant number of those planets are likely to be in the “habitable zone,” the distance from a star at which the planet’s temperature will maintain liquid water on the surface. Liquid water is thought to be a requirement for life, so planets in a star’s habitable zone are ideal candidates for life. It is unclear, however, whether those planets could harbor more than simple microbial life.

The researchers note that their models represent the extremes of what is possible in forming Earthlike planets rather than what is typical of planets observed in our galaxy. For now, they said, it is unclear which approach is more realistic.

Their goal is to understand what a system’s terrestrial planets will look like if the characteristics of a system’s giant planets are known, Raymond said.

Quinn noted that all of the giant planets detected so far have orbits that carry them very close to their parent stars, so their orbits are completed in a relatively short time and it is easier to observe them. The giant planets observed close to their parent stars likely formed farther away and then, because of gravitational forces, migrated closer.

But Quinn expects that giant planets will begin to be discovered farther away from their suns as astronomers have more time to watch and are able to observe gravitational effects during their longer orbits. He doubts such planets will be found before they have completed whatever migration they make toward their suns, because their orbits would be too irregular to observe with any confidence.

“These simulations occur after their migration is over, after the orbits of the gas giants have stabilized,” he said.

The research is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astrobiology Institute, its Planetary Atmospheres program, and Intel Corp.

Original Source: UW News Release

ICEsat’s View of the Earth

Image credit: NASA

NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) has been churning out spectacular 3-D images of the Earth’s icecaps, clouds, mountains and forests as part of its mission to help understand how our planet is affected by climate change. ICESat’s principal mission is to measure the surface elevations of large ice sheets to determine how much they’re changing. The spacecraft’s images of Antarctica revealed details of ice streams along several glaciers, and megadunes in the continent’s interior.

NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) is sending home important scientific data and spectacular 3-D views of Earth’s polar ice sheets, clouds, mountains, and forestlands. The data are helping scientists understand how life on Earth is affected by changing climate.

The principal objective of the ICESat mission, and its Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) instrument, is to measure the surface elevations of the large ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland and determine how they are changing. Much of an ice sheet’s behavior and response to changes in climate are apparent in their shape and how that shape changes with time. The laser sends short pulses of green and infrared light to Earth 40 times a second and collects the reflected laser light with a one-meter telescope.

The measurements have provided revolutionary accuracy and detail about the elevation of ice sheets and the elevation structure of land surfaces. ICESat is providing scientists with the most accurate measurements to date of the heights of clouds. It is also providing critical observations of atmospheric particles, called aerosols, over the ice sheets and the rest of the world. These help climate modelers, who reconstruct the past and project future climate.

“NASA has developed tremendous capabilities over the last several decades for observing our Earth in two dimensions. With ICESat, we can see the critical third-dimension, that is, the vertical dimension of land, water, and the atmosphere, in new and innovative ways,” said Waleed Abdalati, ICESat Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters, Washington. “The first few months of ICESat data have really been phenomenal. We can see detail in ice and land features that were never visible before from space.”

Scientists are using ICESat data to develop what are called “Digital Elevation Models,” 3-D high-resolution images of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Gathering these data from space will allow scientists, to obtain an unprecedented view of how and where ice sheets are growing and shrinking. This information is critical to understanding how the Earth’s changing ice cover affects sea level.

Earlier this year, ICESat’s first topographic profiles across Antarctica revealed details never before seen of features such as the ice streams of the Siple Coast, the Amery Ice Shelf, and megadunes in the Antarctic interior.

“The amount and coverage of heavy dust and pollution loading in many regions of the Earth that we are seeing in the initial ICESat data are unexpected,” said James Spinhirne, principal atmospheric scientist for ICESat at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. These include the rivers of dust from the Sahara desert, massive dust storms, and large-scale smoke from burning vegetation. The observations tie smoke, dust and clouds directly to winds and global transport.

ICESat was launched January 12, 2003. It is the latest in a series of NASA Earth observation spacecraft designed to study the environment of our home planet and how it may be changing. NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

ICESat scientists will present the latest results from ICESat during a press conference on December 9 at 3:00 pm PT in Room 2012 Moscone West, at the 2003 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. They will also convene special sessions C31A and C31D detailing these results on December 10, beginning at 10:20am PT in the Moscone Center, Room MCC 3010.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Ancient Collision Leaves a Debris of Black Holes

Image credit: Chandra

A new image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory shows a trail of black holes and neutron stars that stretch into space for fifty-thousand light years. Astronomers believe that these objects are the evidence that two galaxies collided a few billion years ago. When the galaxies collided, material from the smaller galaxy was pulled into long tidal tails which created new areas of large star formation. Over millions of years these large stars evolved into black holes and neutron stars which are visible in the X-ray spectrum.

An image of an elliptical galaxy by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed a trail of black holes and neutron stars stretching more than fifty thousand light years across space. The trail of intense X-ray sources is evidence that this apparently sedate galaxy collided with another galaxy a few billion years ago.

“This discovery shows that X-ray observations may be the best way to identify the ancient remains of mergers between galaxies,” said Lars Hernquist of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge (CfA), Massachusetts, and a coauthor on an article on the galaxy NGC 4261 in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “It could be a significant tool for probing the origin of elliptical galaxies.”

“From the optical and radio images, we knew something unusual was going on in the nucleus of this galaxy, but the real surprise turned out to be on the outer edges of the galaxy,” said Andreas Zezas, also of CfA, and lead-author of the paper on NGC 4261. “Dozens of black holes and neutron stars were strung out across space like beads on a necklace.”

The spectacular structure is thought to represent the aftermath of the destruction of a smaller galaxy that was pulled apart by gravitational tidal forces as it fell into NGC 4261. As the doomed galaxy fell into the larger one, large streams of gas were pulled out into long tidal tails.

Shock waves generated as these tidal tails fell into the larger galaxy triggered the formation of large numbers of massive stars which over the course of a few million years evolved into neutron stars or black holes. A few of these extremely compact objects had companion stars, and became bright X-ray sources as gas from the companions was captured by the intense gravitational fields of the neutron stars and black holes.

The origin of elliptical galaxies has long been a subject of intense debate among astronomers. The currently favored view is that they are produced by collisions between spiral galaxies. Computer simulations of galaxy collisions support this idea, and optical evidence of tails, shells, ripples, arcs and other structures have been interpreted as evidence for this theory. However the optical evidence rather quickly fades into the starry background of the galaxy, whereas the NGC 4261 X-ray observations show that the X-ray signature may linger for hundreds of millions of years.

NGC 4261 is approximately 100 million light years away from Earth. The data for these results were taken from the Chandra archive. NGC 4261 was originally observed with the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer on May 6, 2000. Other members of the research team were Pepi Fabbiano and Jon Miller, both from the CfA.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., formerly TRW, Inc., was the prime development contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Original Source: Chandra News Release

Recycling Extends Ring Lifetimes

Image credit: NASA/JPL

New research from the University of Colorado shows how recycling of material can extend the lifetime of a ring system, such as those around Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. The small moons near the gas giants have long been known to sculpt the shape of the rings. It’s now believed that they’re piles of loosely-collected rubble which pull material out of the rings and then feed it back in when they collide with another object. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is on its way to Saturn now and should provide more details when it arrives in July 2004.

Although rings around planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are relatively short-lived, new evidence implies that the recycling of orbiting debris can lengthen the lifetime of such rings, according to University of Colorado researchers.

Strong evidence now implies small moons near the giant planets like Saturn and Jupiter are essentially piles of rubble, said Larry Esposito, a professor at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. These re-constituted small bodies are the source of material for planetary rings.

Previous calculations by Esposito and LASP Research Associate Joshua Colwell showed the short lifetimes for such moons imply that the solar system is nearly at the end of the age of rings. “These philosophically unappealing results may not truly describe our solar system and the rings that may surround giant extra-solar planets,” said Esposito. “Our new calculations of models explain how inclusion of recycling can lengthen the lifetime of rings and moons.”

The observations from the Voyager and Galileo space missions showed a variety of rings surrounding each of the giant planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The rings are mixed in each case with small moons.

“It is clear that the small moons not only sculpt the rings through their gravity, but are also the parents of the ring material,” said Esposito. “In each ring system, destructive processes like grinding, darkening and spreading are acting so rapidly that the rings must be much younger than the planets they circle.”

Numerical models by Esposito and Colwell from the 1990’s showed a “collisional cascade,” where a planet’s moons are broken into smaller moons when struck by asteroids or comets. The fragments then are shattered to form the particles in new rings. The rings themselves are subsequently ground to dust, which is swept away.

But according to Colwell, “Some of the fragments that make up the rings may be re-accreted instead of being ground to dust. New evidence shows some debris has accumulated into moons or moonlets rather than disappearing through collisional erosion.”

“This process has proceeded rapidly,” said Esposito. “The typical ring is younger than a few hundred million years, the blink of an eye compared to the planets, which are 4.5 billion years old. The question naturally arises why rings still exist, to be photographed in such glory by visiting human spacecraft that have arrived lately on the scene,” he said.

“The answer now likely seems to be cosmic recycling,” said Esposito. Each time a moon is destroyed by a cosmic impact, much of the material released is captured by other nearby moons. These recycled moons are essentially collections of rubble, but by recycling material through a series of small moons, the lifetime of the ring system may be longer than we initially thought.”

Esposito and former LASP Research Associate Robin Canup, now with the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder branch, showed through computer modeling that smaller fragments can be recaptured by other moons in the system. “Without this recycling, the rings and moons are soon gone,” said Esposito.

But with more recycling, the lifetime is longer, Esposito said. With most of the material recycled, as now appears to be the case in most rings, the lifetime is extended by a large factor.

“Although the individual rings and moons we now see are ephemeral, the phenomenon persists for billions of years around Saturn,” said Esposito. “Previous calculations ignored the collective effects of the other moons in extending the persistence of rings by recapturing and recycling ring material.”

Esposito, the principal investigator on a $12 million spectrograph on the Cassini spacecraft slated to arrive at Saturn in July 2004, will look closely at the competing processes of destruction and re-capture in Saturn’s F ring to confirm and quantify this explanation. Esposito discovered the F Ring using data from NASA’s Voyager 2 mission to the outer planets launched in 1978.

Original Source: University of Colorado News Release

Foale Breaks US Space Endurance Record

Image credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Michael Foale beat the current US record for endurance in space today when he surpassed 230 cumulative days – a record set by Carl Walz back in June 2002. Foale has been a member of six space shuttle crews and two space station crews. One of his longest times in orbit was when he served as a flight engineer aboard the Mir space station in 1997. Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev holds the record with 748 cumulative days in space, and Valery Polyakov’s 438-day mission was the most consecutive days in space. Foale has some catching up to do.

NASA astronaut Michael Foale, International Space Station Expedition 8 Commander and NASA Science Officer, is the new U.S. space endurance record holder, and he’s not finished yet.

Just before 2 p.m. EST Monday, Foale surpassed the previous U.S. record of 230 days, 13 hours, three minutes and 37 seconds. NASA astronaut Carl Walz set the old record in June 2002. By the time Foale returns to Earth next April, he will have accrued 375 cumulative days in space. Walz made an ultra-long-distance phone call from NASA Headquarters in Washington Monday to congratulate Foale on his accomplishment. Walz is still co-holder of the U.S. record for the longest single U.S. spaceflight during Expedition 4. He and NASA astronaut Daniel Bursch spent nearly 196 days aboard the Space Station.

Foale has been a member of six Space Shuttle crews and two Space Station crews. He flew aboard Shuttle missions in 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1999. He flew as a flight engineer aboard the Russian Mir Space Station in 1997, traveling to and from the station aboard the Shuttle. For Expedition 8, Foale traveled to the Station on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Foale’s Expedition 8 crewmate, Russian cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri, is also among the most experienced space travelers. By the end of their mission, Kaleri will have logged 610 days in orbit on four flights, placing him fifth on the all-time space endurance list. Another Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Avdeyev, holds the all-time record for time spent in space, with 748 days accumulated on three flights. Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov set the world single-flight endurance record in 1995, when he completed a 438-day mission.

American Shannon Lucid holds the single flight and cumulative record for time in space by a woman. She had a 188-day flight aboard the Russian Mir Space Station contributing to a cumulative total of 223 days in space on five flights.

Walz’s call to Foale, along with b-roll, will be replayed at noon EST today during the NASA Television Video File. NASA TV is available on AMC-9, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz. For information about NASA TV on the Internet, visit:

Original Source: NASA News Release

Cocoon of Hydrogen Around a Young Star

Image credit: JACH

A young, hot star has been found nestled inside a cocoon of molecular hydrogen gas half a light-year across. The star is called IRAS 07427-2400, and it’s sending out a solar wind so fast (360,000 km/h) that the shock waves are heating up the gas so it’s visible to Earth-based telescopes. Astronomers believe that these massive stars have so much energy that they blast their environment so that planets aren’t able to form the way they do around more “normal” stars, like our own Sun.

Astronomers have discovered a giant envelope or disk of glowing gas more than half a light year across, illuminated by shockwaves caused by winds travelling at up to 360,000 km/hour (220,000 miles/hour). The disk is orbiting a massive star 20,000 light years from Earth. This is the first time such a disk has been found emitting its own light. The discovery is reported today (8 December 2003) in the journal “Astronomy and Astrophysics”.

The work, led by Dr Nanda Kumar of the Centre for Astrophysics of the University of Porto (CAUP), Portugal, used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, and other telescopes. The team used the new UKIRT Imager Spectrometer (UIST) on UKIRT, to study the young stellar object (YSO) known as IRAS 07427-2400. Their results show that the envelope or disk around the young star is glowing in the light of molecular hydrogen and ionised iron.

Dr Stan Kurtz of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who is an expert in studies of solar system sized disks around massive stars, said “Protostellar disks are known to exist around Sun-like stars, but they are usually seen in silhouette against background light from nebulae. In this case, however, the molecules in the disk are hot enough to shine brightly themselves.”

Dr Kumar adds “This is the first time an envelope like this has been seen in molecular hydrogen emission. It tells us that massive stars form with very different conditions and physical aspects when compared to Sun-like stars.”

The central star itself is very young, at roughly 100,000 years old. By comparison, our middle-aged Sun is about 5 billion years old. The surrounding gas disk is huge – its diameter is one thousand times larger than Pluto’s orbit in our own Solar System. The young star is rapidly changing as gas and dust spiral down onto its surface through the disk, a process called “accretion”. The star is already more than one thousand times more luminous than our Sun.

Dr Amadeu Fernandes of CAUP, Porto states “The UKIRT results show that the glow from the disk is not due to the intense light from the central star, but is instead caused by powerful shock waves”. Dr Chris Davis of the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii explains “The disk is possibly being shocked by supersonic winds driven by the central star. These winds, travelling at hundreds of thousands of kilometres per hour, crash into the disk and heat the gas to thousands of degrees.”

Dr Kumar adds “It is also possible that the shocks are powered by large amounts of gas and dust collapsing through the disk onto the young star. Further investigation is required to understand their origin.”

Disks around young, Sun-like stars are known to be the birth places of planets, which can condense out of the gas and dust after the star has formed. This disk has about 150 times the mass of our Sun – enough gas and dust to make a hundred Sun-like stars, or many thousands of planets. However, the results suggest that it will not produce new planets or stars in the future. The intense shock waves have made the gas far too hot to condense. Dr Davis says “This tells us that massive stars like this may not be able to form planets, as their surrounding gas is too hot.”

Instead of forming a cluster of stars, or a family of orbiting planets, the disk will ultimately be destroyed by the intense ultraviolet radiation from the central star. The radiation is already at work, gnawing at the inner edges of the disk and evaporating the gas. Dr Kumar says “We’ve seen open rings of gas around similar stars, also with UKIRT. We think they may be the remnants of large disks that have been almost completely evaporated.”

The complete destruction of the disk will take many thousands of years. Before this happens, the size and brightness of the disk allow researchers to study it with powerful ground-based telescopes such as UKIRT, without the need for a space telescope.

Dr Davis says “We now have the task of searching for other hot, molecular disks around massive young stars, and of fitting the existence of this super-disk into our theories on the birth of massive stars.”

The disk was first discovered in January 2001 by UKIRT, but further observations were needed to confirm its nature. The team used the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii to provide supporting evidence to prove the rotating nature of the disk. Stan Kurtz used the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico to image the central massive star at radio wavelengths. The team returned to use UKIRT in December 2002.

The work described is published on 8th December 2003 in “Astronomy and Astrophysics” volume 412.

Original Source: JACH News Release