After months of orbital manoeuvres, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft is ready to get to work searching for water on the surface of Mars. NASA flight controllers instructed the spacecraft to turn its scientific equipment towards the Red Planet on Monday. Operators expect it will take a few days to fully calibrate the equipment, and hope to release the first images to the public on March 1.
According to John Moore, a University of Florida anthropologist, families might have the right social dynamic to take on long duration space voyages – such as the colonization of another star, which could take 200 years to reach. By organizing the crew along family lines, Moore believes a crew would be better protected from problems that could occur over a multigenerational journey. In fact, in order to have enough genetic diversity to seed a new plant, Moore believes you only need a starting population of 150-180 people.
Scientists believe they have spotted the first evidence of a radiation afterglow from short gamma-ray bursts. The afterglow from the bursts was discovered by an international team of astronomers while poring through data gathered by NASA’s Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. It’s believed longer gamma-ray bursts are caused by the collapse of massive stars, while shorter bursts might be from colliding neutron stars or black holes. By studying the afterglow, astronomers might have another tool to uncover the size, distance, and cause of the bursts.
Astronomers will have a treat on Wednesday when the planet Saturn sneaks behind a quarter moon and then return approximately an hour or so later. This planetary eclipse is called an occultation, and it will be best viewed from North-eastern part of North America. The exact time of the occultation depends on your location, so follow the links to find the various times in different cities.
A newly detected dust ring, just outside the orbit of Saturn could help astronomers have come up with a new strategy to shortlist star systems that might contain planets. Astronomers from the European Space Agency believe that this dusty ring is being maintained and replenished through collisions of objects in the solar system, like comets and asteroids. These distant dust clouds should be detectible, as well as swaths cleared out by planets.
Combining images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as data from radio observatories, astronomers from the European Space Agency have new understanding of a very unusual star system – a fast spinning pulsar and a giant red star. Although 90 of these “millisecond” pulsars have been discovered by astronomers, they haven’t figured out what gets them spinning so quickly. Perhaps through absorbing matter from another star, the pulsar is spun up by the transfer of energy that occurs when material is consumed.
Astronomers have calculated that the Moon, pulled by the gravity of the Earth and the Sun, may bulge as much as 10 centimetres over the course of its 27 day journey around our planet. The bulging could be caused by a molten slush surrounding the Moon’s core. The measurements were gathered by firing a laser pulse from the Earth to the Moon, and it measures the round-trip distance to an accuracy of 2 centimetres.
NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor began its second year of extended operations at the beginning of February, and recently delivered a whole new batch of images of the Red Planet. These images were taken over course of the spacecraft’s first year of extended operations.
A Boeing Delta II rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California today carrying a cargo of five spare satellites for the Iridium communications network. These additional five satellites join the 66 operational satellites and seven spares already in low-earth orbit. The US government is the primary customer for Iridium, and its 2-year, $72 million contract staved off bankruptcy for the troubled company.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft deployed its high-gain antenna on Tuesday night, establishing a high-speed connection between the spacecraft and controllers back on Earth. Flight controllers tested the boom to ensure it can communicate with different locations on Earth and then pronounced the deployment “successful”. Science instruments on the spacecraft are expected to begin collecting data later this month.