Friday, February 5, 2016

Atlas V Rocket 40% 'GO' For Launch From Cape Canaveral


United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket
Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The launch of a U.S. Air Force global positioning satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket is scheduled for 8:38 a.m. EST on Friday, February 5, 2016, with an 19-minute launch window.


The Atlas V rocket will carry the GPS IIF-12 satellite into space from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

According to the latest weather forecast from the USAF 45th Weather Squadron, there is only a 40% percent chance overall of acceptable weather conditions at launch time.  The primary weather concerns for launch are ground winds and thick clouds.


GPS IIF-12 is one of the next-generation GPS military satellites.  The GPS IIF-12 mission will be 
ULA’s first mission of 2016 and the 60th operational GPS mission to launch on a ULA or heritage rocket.


Where Can You Watch The Rocket Launch?

 
A. The best place to watch the launch is from the Canaveral National Seashore just north of Kennedy Space Center.  Admission is $5 per car.  The park opens at 6 a.m.  Visit the U.S. National Park Service website for directions and more information.



B. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is opening at 6 a.m. for the launch. There are several locations available for guests to view the launch. General admission tickets required.  Visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website for directions and more information.


Free areas to watch the Rocket Launch (in order of best viewing): 

1. Titusville, Florida southward along the Indian River on the east side of US Highway 1.
2. Between Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral along the north side of State Road 528.
3. Port Canaveral, with best viewing and paid parking available at Jetty Park.
4. Along the beaches of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, Florida (there is metered parking in Cocoa Beach that only accepts quarters, so bring some change).


Map of Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Google.  Rocket launch viewing locations added by Brevard Times.

Monday, January 18, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes During Drone Ship Landing


UPDATE: SpaceX attempted to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean after successfully launching NASA's Jason-3 satellite into orbit.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the lockout collet did not latch on one of the four landing legs which caused to rocket to tip over after landing and explode. Musk said that the root cause of the malfunction may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff.

Video credit: SpaceX

Previous story:


VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BACE, Califorinia. The Jason-3 international oceanography satellite mission is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 10:42:18 a.m. PST (1:42:18 p.m. EST) with a 30-second launch window.

After the satellite is safely on its way into orbit, SpaceX will once again attempt to land the first stage of its rocket on a drone ship landing pad, this time in the Pacific Ocean.


Jason-3 will add to a 23-year satellite record of global sea surface heights, a measurement with scientific, commercial and practical applications related to climate change, currents and weather. Jason-3 data will be used for monitoring global sea level rise, researching human impacts on oceans, aiding prediction of hurricane intensity, and operational marine navigation. The mission is planned to last at least three years, with a goal of five years. It is a four-agency international partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the French Space Agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), and EUMETSAT (the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Astronomers Find Second Largest Black Hole In Milky Way Galaxy


A team of astronomers believe that they have discovered the second largest black hole in our Milky Way Galaxy. If proven true, this is the first detection of an intermediate mass black hole. 

Astronomers already know about two sizes of black holes: stellar-mass black holes, formed after the gigantic explosions of very massive stars; and supermassive black holes (SMBH) often found at the centers of galaxies. The mass of SMBH ranges from several million to billions of times the mass of the Sun. 

A number of SMBHs have been found, but no one knows how the SMBHs are formed. One idea is that they are formed from mergers of many intermediate mass black holes. But this raises a problem because so far no firm observational evidence for intermediate mass black holes has been found. 

If the cloud contains an intermediate mass black hole, it might support the intermediate mass black hole merger scenario of SMBH evolution.

The scientific team led by Tomoharu Oka, a professor at Keio University in Japan, found  the enigmatic gas cloud, called CO-0.40-0.22, only 200 light years away from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. What makes the cloud unusual is its surprisingly wide velocity dispersion: the cloud contains gas with a very wide range of speeds.  

The team performed a simple simulation of gas clouds flung by a strong gravity source. In the simulation, the gas clouds are first attracted by the source and their speeds increase as they approach it, reaching maximum at the closest point to the object. After that the clouds continue past the object and their speeds decrease. The team found that a model using a gravity source with 100 thousand times the mass of our Sun inside an area with a radius of 0.3 light years provided the best fit to the observed data. 

"Considering the fact that no compact objects are seen in X-ray or infrared observations," Oka, the lead author of the paper that appeared in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, explains "as far as we know, the best candidate for the compact massive object is a black hole."

These results could open a new way to search for black holes with radio telescopes. Recent observations have revealed that there are a number of wide-velocity-dispersion compact clouds similar to CO-0.40-0.22. The team proposes that some of those clouds might also contain black holes. A study suggested that there are 100 million black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy, but X-ray observations have only found dozens so far. Most of the black holes may be "dark" and very difficult to see directly at any wavelength. 

"Investigations of gas motion with radio telescopes may provide a complementary way to search for dark black holes" said Oka. "The on-going wide area survey observations of the Milky Way with the Nobeyama 45-m Telescope and high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have the potential to increase the number of black hole candidates dramatically."

ABOVE IMAGE: Molecular clouds scattered by an intermediate black hole show very wide velocity dispersion. This scenario well explains the observational features of a peculiar molecular cloud CO-0.40-0.22. Credit: Keio University

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

NASA Discovers Black Hole Near Earth 'Burping' Gas


Scientists have discovered a supermassive black hole burping gas near Earth using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.  

Astronomers found this outburst in a supermassive black hole centered in the small galaxy NGC 5195. This companion galaxy is merging with a large spiral galaxy NGC 5194, also known as “The Whirlpool.” Both of these galaxies are in the Messier 51 galaxy system (M51), located about 26 million light years from Earth.

“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as 'eating' stars and gas.  Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” said Eric Schlegel of The University of Texas in San Antonio, who led the study. “Our observation is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events.”

Researchers believe that the outbursts of the supermassive black hole in NGC 5195 may have been triggered by the interaction of this smaller galaxy with its large spiral companion, causing gas to be funneled in towards the black hole. The energy generated by this infalling matter would produce the outbursts. 

ABOVE IMAGE: The main panel of the image shows M51 in visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The box at the top of the image outlines the field of view by Chandra in the latest study, which focuses on the smaller component of M51, NGC 5195. The inset to the right shows the details of the Chandra data (blue) of this region. Researchers found a pair of arcs in X-ray emission close to the center of the galaxy, which they interpret as two outbursts from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. Astronomers estimate that it took about one to three million years for the inner arc to reach its current position, and three to six million years for the outer arc. 

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Scientists Use New Way To Measure Stellar Gravity To Find Habitable Exoplanets

Artist conception of an exoplanet

Scientists have found a new way to measure the pull of gravity at the surface of distant stars that could help identify which exoplanets are capable of sustaining life, according to a new study published in Science Advances.

"If you don't know the star, you don't know the planet," said study co-author, Professor Jaymie Matthews. "The size of an exoplanet is measured relative to the size of its parent star. If you find a planet around a star that you think is Sun-like but is actually a giant, you may have fooled yourself into thinking you've found a habitable Earth-sized world. Our technique can tell you how big and bright is the star, and if a planet around it is the right size and temperature to have water oceans, and maybe life."

The new technique is called the autocorrelation function timescale technique, or timescale technique for short, which uses subtle variations in the brightness of distant stars recorded by satellites like Canada's MOST and NASA's Kepler missions.

"The timescale technique is a simple but powerful tool that can be applied to the data from these searches to help understand the nature of stars like our Sun and to help find other planets like our Earth," said University of Vienna's Thomas Kallinger, the study's lead author.

The new method allows scientists to measure surface gravity with an accuracy of about four percent for stars too distant and too faint to apply current techniques. Since surface gravity depends on the star's mass and radius (just as your weight on Earth depends on its mass and radius), this technique would enable astronomers to better gauge the masses and sizes of distant stars. 

Future space satellites could hunt for planets in the 'Goldilocks Zones' of their stars - not too hot, not too cold, but just right for liquid water oceans and possibly life. Future exoplanet surveys would need the best possible information about the stars they search, if they're to correctly characterize any planets they find.

ABOVE IMAGE: This artist's concept show a distant exoplanet orbiting its yellow-orange star. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

NASA Video: Quadrantid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight


The Quadrantid Meteor Shower will peak overnight tonight, January 3, 2016, and into the early morning of January 4, 2016. The following NASA YouTube video shows where and when to look for the Quadrantid meteors in the U.S. and Europe.

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower tonight may favor the U.S. or it could favor Europe, depending on which prediction turns out to be correct, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Quadrantids are somewhat unpredictable, but can have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, varying between 60 and 200 meteors per hour.  A waning cresent moon will rise between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time tonight that will only have 38% illumination - so the meteors would only be slightly washed out by this year's moonlight.

Where to look for the Quadrantid meteor shower:




The shower’s radiant, in the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, is in a star-poor but familiar area in the northeast sky. It makes a triangle with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor – the big and little dippers. 


Where to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower:


Given the location of the radiant at the northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman, only observers in Earth's northern hemisphere will be able to see Quadrantids. Alaska and Hawaii are geographically the most favored for observing the short peak of this shower. The U.S. west coast will see more than further east across the continental United States.


When to watch January's meteor shower:


U.S. Observers should begin looking at 08:00 Universal Time – which is midnight Pacific or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. European observers should look 8 hours earlier at 00 UT. The peak should last about two hours, with rates of 120 meteors per hour predicted in areas with a dark sky.

The morning of January 4, 2016 in the United States

3 AM Eastern Standard Time

2 AM Central Standard Time

1 AM Mountain Standard Time

12 AM Pacific Standard Time



Image and video credit: NASA/JPL

Elon Musk: Landed SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket 'Ready to Fire Again'


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket which successfully landed on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida last month is ready to fire again, according to SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk.

The recovered rocket was moved into a newly-built hangar near the former Space Shuttle launch pad 39A for evaluation in preparation of another test firing.

Musk tweeted a photo of the Falcon 9 rocket inside the hanger on New Year's Eve and stated that "no damage [was] found" and that it is "ready to fire again."

The Falcon 9 rocket landing was the first time that any reusable part of an orbital mission launch has landed on Florida's Space Coast since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program. The mission also marked the first time in space history that a rocket successfully launched a commercial satellite into orbit and then achieved a land landing.

Photo Credit: SpaceX

Quadrantid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight: January 3-4, 2016


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - A relatively unknown meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, the Quadrantids, will peak overnight tonight, January 3, 2016, and into the early morning of January 4, 2016.

The Quadrantids will either sizzle or fizzle for observers in the United States early Monday morning. The shower may favor the U.S., or it could favor Europe, depending on which prediction turns out to be correct, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Quadrantids are somewhat unpredictable, but can have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, varying between 60 and 200 meteors per hour.  A waning cresent moon will rise between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time tonight that will only have 38% illumination - so the meteors would only be slightly washed out by this year's moonlight.

Where to look for the Quadrantid meteor shower:




The shower’s radiant, in the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, is in a star-poor but familiar area in the northeast sky. It makes a triangle with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor – the big and little dippers. 


Where to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower:


Given the location of the radiant at the northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman, only observers in Earth's northern hemisphere will be able to see Quadrantids. Alaska and Hawaii are geographically the most favored for observing the short peak of this shower. The U.S. west coast will see more than further east across the continental United States.


When to watch January's meteor shower:


U.S. Observers should begin looking at 08:00 Universal Time – which is midnight Pacific or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time - and European observers should look 8 hours earlier at 00 UT. The peak should last about two hours, with rates of 120 meteors per hour predicted in areas with a dark sky.

The morning of January 4, 2016 in the United States

3 AM Eastern Standard Time

2 AM Central Standard Time

1 AM Mountain Standard Time

12 AM Pacific Standard Time

Where do the Quadrantid meteors come from?


Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. According to NASA, dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on January 4, 2016 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface.

The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars.  Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower its name.


Image and video credit: NASA/JPL

Monday, December 21, 2015

Russian Progress Spacecraft Launches To International Space Station


BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan - A Russian Progress 62 spacecraft carrying more than three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the Expedition 46 crew aboard the International Space Station successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:44 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Monday.

Less than ten minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. 

Following a 34-orbit, two-day trip, Progress 62 is scheduled to arrive at the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station at 5:31 a.m. EST on Wednesday, December 23, 2015. 

The two-day rendezvous was deliberately planned to enable Russian flight controllers to test new software and communications equipment on the vehicle that NASA says will be standard for future Progress and piloted Soyuz spacecraft.  

The Progress will spend more than six months at the space station before departing in early July 2016.

Later this morning, U.S. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra will exit the space station’s U.S. Quest airlock to conduct a previously unplanned spacewalk to help move a mobile transporter rail car so that it can be latched in place prior to arrival of the Progress spacecraft.

Image credit: NASA TV

Astronauts Repair Space Station During Surprise Spacewalk


CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - U.S. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra will undertake an unplanned spacewalk Monday morning to make repairs on the International Space Station before the arrival of a Russian Progress 62 spacecraft which successfully launched from Kazakhstan earlier today.

Last week, a Mobile Transporter rail car on the station’s truss was being moved by robotic flight controllers at Mission Control to a different worksite near the center of the truss for payload operations when it stopped moving.  

Kelly and Kopra will float out of the Quest airlock to assist in moving the Mobile Transporter a few inches to the proper worksite where it can be latched in place and electrically mated to the complex. 

The  3 to 3 ½ hour spacewalk is scheduled to begin Monday at 8:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The start time for the spacewalk is variable since Kopra will be conducting a fit check of his U.S. spacesuit in parallel with other spacewalk preparations. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. 

If the primary task of moving the transporter to its worksite is completed quickly, Kelly and Kopra may press on to a few get-ahead tasks that include the routing of cables in advance of International Docking Adapter installment work to support U.S. commercial crew vehicles, and opening a door housing power distribution system relay boxes just above the worksite to facilitate the future robotic replacement of modular components.

This will be the 191st spacewalk in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the third in Kelly’s career and the second for Kopra. Kelly will be designated Extravehicular Activity crew member 1 (EV1) wearing the suit bearing the red stripes, and Kopra will be Extravehicular Activity crew member 2 (EV2) wearing the suit with no stripes.


  Image Credit: NASA