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astroengine (1577233) writes "Last week, SpaceX attempted the unprecedented return the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket after a successful launch of the Dragon cargo vehicle to the International Space Station. The rocket landing attempt was not successful, however; it hit the company’s unmanned landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean and exploded. But the fact that it made contact with the small platform at all suggests that Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company is on the right track." Link to Original Source top
astroengine (1577233) writes "Test flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo are on schedule to begin again this year – this time with its own pilots, the chief executive of Richard Branson’s space startup said Friday. The first in a series of planned passenger spaceships was destroyed on Oct. 31, 2014, during a fatal test flight being conducted by manufacturer Scaled Composites. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, determined that co-pilot Michael Alsbury, who died in the crash, released the ship’s moveable tail section early. The vehicle was not traveling fast enough for aerodynamic forces to keep the so-called “feather” pinned in place, as designs called for. As a result, the ship was torn apart, jettisoning pilot Pete Siebold in the process, who managed to parachute to safety." Link to Original Source top
Hubble's Stunning New View of the 'Pillars of Creation'
astroengine (1577233) writes "20 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope showed the world what has become one of the most famous images of our time. Staring deep into the Eagle Nebula, Hubble demonstrated its sheer imaging power, picking out the vast pillars of gas and dust in a star-making factory. Deep within their dusty cocoons, baby stars are being born, a factor that spawned the apt moniker “Pillars of Creation.” Now, to celebrate 25 years in space, Hubble has released a new version of the same nebula, only this time it's in high-definition. And it's spectacular." Link to Original Source top
Mars Rover Opportunity Suffers Worrying Bouts of 'Amnesia'
astroengine (1577233) writes "Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been exploring the Martian surface for over a decade — that’s an amazing ten years longer than the 3-month primary mission it began in January 2004. But with its great successes, inevitable age-related issues have surfaced and mission engineers are being challenged by an increasingly troubling bout of “amnesia” triggered by the rover's flash memory. “The problems started off fairly benign, but now they’ve become more serious — much like an illness, the symptoms were mild, but now with the progression of time things have become more serious,” Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News." Link to Original Source top
THIS is What it's Like to Reenter the Earth's Atmosphere
astroengine (1577233) writes "NASA’s Kepler space telescope has detected its first new extrasolar planet after mission engineers were able to save the mission from a premature death after two of the exoplanet hunter’s four stabilizing reaction wheels failed last year. Called “K2, the extended mission arose from an “innovative idea” that appears to have given the prolific telescope a new lease on life. “Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington D.C. “Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life.”" Link to Original Source top
Wait, There's More: Curiosity Confirms Organics on Mars
astroengine (1577233) writes "NASA’s rover Curiosity has found organic compounds on Mars, the first definitive proof of materials, which on Earth are building blocks for life, also exist on the Red Planet. “We have had a major discovery. We have found organics on Mars,” Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said during a webcast press conference at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Whether the organics were delivered by carbon-rich meteorites or formed on Mars has yet to be determined. The discovery, paired with a sister investigation that found occasional spikes of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, is a turning point for the mission, which began 2.5 years ago inside a 96-mile wide impact basin named Gale Crater. On Earth, more than 90 percent of the atmospheric methane is produced by biological processes. The rest is tied to geochemical processes." Link to Original Source top
Curiosity Detects Mysterious Methane Spikes on Mars
astroengine (1577233) writes "A gas strongly associated with life on Earth has been detected again in the Martian atmosphere, opening a new chapter in a decade-old mystery about the on-again, off-again appearance of methane on Mars. The latest discovery comes from NASA’s Curiosity rover, which in addition to analyzing rocks and soil samples, is sniffing the air at its Gale Crater landing site. A year ago, scientists reported that Curiosity had come up empty-handed after an eight-month search for methane in the atmosphere, leaving earlier detections by ground-based telescopes and Mars-orbiting spacecraft an unexplained anomaly. “We thought we had closed the book on methane. It was disappointing to a lot of people that there wasn’t significant methane on Mars, but that’s where we were,” Curiosity scientist Christopher Webster with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News." Link to Original Source top
astroengine (1577233) writes "The mountain that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is exploring appears to have once been a lake, scientists said Monday. Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered debris rising from the floor of Gale Crater, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, images posted on NASA’s website ahead of conference call with reporters shows. Sediments to create the mountain likely originated from the crater rim highlands and transported toward the center of the crater in alluvial fans, deltas, and wind-blown drifts, scientists said. “During wet periods, water pooled in lakes where sediments settled out in the center of crater,” NASA said. "Even during dry periods in the crater center, groundwater would have existed beneath the surface. Then, during the next wet period it would resurface to form the next lake. This alternation of lakes, rivers and deserts could have represented a long-lasting habitable environment."" Link to Original Source top
LHC's 'Heart' Starts Pumping Protons Before Restart
astroengine (1577233) writes "While on its long road to restart, yet another milestone was reached at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over the weekend. Protons were generated by the LHC’s source and blasted through a ‘daisy-chain’ of smaller accelerators before being intentionally smashed into a metaphorical brick wall. The particle beam didn’t reach the LHC’s famous 17 mile (27 kilometer) accelerator ring, they were stopped just short, but the event was used to begin calibration efforts of the massive experiment’s detectors before the whole system is powered back up again early next year. “These initial tests are a milestone for the whole accelerator chain,” said the LHC’s chief engineer Reyes Alemany Fernandez. “Not only was this the first time the injection lines have seen beams in over a year, it was also our first opportunity to test the LHC’s operation system. We successfully commissioned the LHC’s injection and ejection magnets, all without beam in the machine itself.”" Link to Original Source top
Philae's Batteries Have Drained, Comet Lander Sleeps
astroengine (1577233) writes "Welcome to HL Tauri — a star system that is just being born and the target of one of the most mind-blowing astronomical observations ever made. Observed by the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, this is the most detailed view of the proto-planetary disk surrounding a young star 450 light-years away. And those concentric rings cutting through the glowing gas and dust? Those, my friends, are tracks etched out by planets being spawned inside the disk. In short, this is the mother of all embryonic star system ultrasounds. But this dazzling new observation is so much more — it’s a portal into our solar system’s past, showing us what our system of planets around a young sun may have looked like over 4 billion years ago. And this is awesome, because it proves that our theoretical understanding about the evolution of planetary systems is correct. However, there are some surprises. “When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail,” said Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA Deputy Program Scientist. “HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionize theories of planet formation.”" Link to Original Source top
SpaceShipTwo's Rocket Engine Did Not Cause Fatal Crash
astroengine (1577233) writes "It wasn’t SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor — which was flying on Friday with a new type of fuel — that caused the fatal crash, the head of the accident investigation agency said late Sunday. The ship’s fuel tanks and its engine were recovered intact, indicating there was no explosion. “They showed no signs of burn-through, no signs of being breached,” Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board, told reporters at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Instead, data and video relayed from the ship show its hallmark safety feature — a foldable tail section designed for easy re-entry into the atmosphere from space — was deployed early, causing the in-flight break-up." Link to Original Source top
SpaceShipTwo Pilot Named; Branson Vows to 'Move Forward Together'
astroengine (1577233) writes "Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has arrived in the Mojave Desert, Calif., in the wake of the tragic explosion and crash of the company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle. The rocket-propelled space plane was completely destroyed Friday morning during a test flight. One of the two test pilots, employed by SpaceShipTwo development company Scaled Composites, was killed and the second pilot was rushed to a local hospital where he is described as having “major injuries.” A spokeswoman for Kern’s County Coroner’s Office told the Los Angeles Times that project engineer and test pilot Michael Alsbury died in the accident. Alsbury was 39-years-old and had been working with Scaled for 14 years. The second pilot, who was able to parachute to safety, has not been named." Link to Original Source top
Two Exocomet Families Found Around Baby Star System
astroengine (1577233) writes "Scientists have found two families of comets in the developing Beta Pictoris star system, located about 64 million light-years from Earth, including one group that appears to be remnants of a smashed-up protoplanet. The discovery bolsters our theoretical understanding of the violent processes that led to the formation of Earth and the other terrestrial planets in the solar system. “If you look back at the solar system when it was only 22 million years old, you might have seen phenomena that’s a like more like what’s happening in Beta Pic,” astrophysicist Aki Roberge, with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., told Discovery News." Link to Original Source top
Mars Orbiter Beams Back Images of Comet's Surprisingly Tiny Nucleus
astroengine (1577233) writes "Early results from NASA’s recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. “It’s measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It’s an important measurement to make because the hydrogen... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere,” MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call." Link to Original Source top
Rosetta Stalks Dark Comet in Stunning New Space Selfie
astroengine (1577233) writes "At a distance of only 10 miles from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface, the European Rosetta mission has captured yet another dazzling self portrait with the dark comet lurking in the background. But the orbiter couldn’t have snapped this “selfie” without the help of a little friend — the attached Philae lander that is currently undergoing preparations for its historic comet surface landing in November." Link to Original Source