New NASA NExSS Coalition to Lead Search for Life on Distant Exoplanets

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NASA’s NExSS collaboration will bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds to help search for evidence of life in other Solar Systems. Image Credit: NASA

The search for, and discovery of, exoplanets orbiting other stars has become a full-fledged endeavour in recent years, with thousands found so far and more being discovered practically every week. Now, NASA wants to take it a big step further by establishing a coalition of research groups and disciplines tasked specifically with this purpose.

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Second SpaceX Mission in Two Weeks Gears Up for Monday Launch

SpaceX image of Falcon 9 rocket posted on AmericaSpace photo credit SpaceX

Since its maiden voyage in September 2013, the Falcon 9 v1.1 has delivered payloads into low-Earth orbit, Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and onto Earth-escape trajectories to the L2 Lagrange Point. Photo Credit SpaceX

Less than two weeks since the rousing launch of the CRS-6 Dragon cargo mission toward the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX is primed to deliver its second payload of 2015 to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) on Monday, 27 April, when its venerable Falcon 9 v1.1 booster lofts Turkmenistan’s first national communications satellite. Liftoff is scheduled to occur from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during a 90-minute “window,” which opens at 6:14 p.m. EDT. With local sunset expected at 7:55 p.m. Monday and 7:56 p.m. Tuesday, a successful launch promises a beautiful view for observers in the Cape Canaveral area. Built by the Paris, France-headquartered Thales Group, the 9,920-pound (4,500-kg) satellite is encumbered with perhaps the most tongue-twisting name of any payload yet ferried into orbit by SpaceX—“TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat”—and will spend up to 15 years providing television, radio, and internet coverage of Europe, Africa, and significant swathes of Asia. If SpaceX launches on time on Monday, it will set a new record of just 13 days between missions, eclipsing the prior 14-day record set between last September’s flights of AsiaSat-6 and the CRS-4 Dragon.

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'Somebody Get a Camera': 25 Years Since the Launch of Hubble (Part 2)

Twenty-five years after its April 1990 launch, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope remains functional. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years after its April 1990 launch, the iconic Hubble Space Telescope remains functional. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years ago, yesterday, on 24 April 1990, one of the most important missions in the annals of scientific discovery got underway, with the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, this $1.5 billion observatory—with its five instruments and finely ground mirrors—promised to revolutionize astronomy. It would peer deeper into the cosmos than ever before, unhindered by the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere. In time, it would examine “nurseries” of young stars and “graveyards” of ancient ones, would study galaxies in unprecedented depth, would watch as a comet smashed into Jupiter, would trace violent storms on Uranus and Neptune, and would create maps of far-off Pluto. And 25 years ago, today, on 25 April 1990, the telescope was released from the payload bay of Shuttle Discovery by the crew of STS-31. However, its childhood was marred by technical difficulty, which made it the butt of cruel humor and an object of criticism from NASA’s opponents.

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Shedding New Light On the Solar System: Celebrating 25 Years of Hubble Science (Part 1)

A photograph of the Hubble Space Telescope. taken by the crew of the STS-109 mission, following the successful completion of the fourth Hubble servicing mission in 2002. The iconic orbiting observatory, which celebrates 25 years of successful operation this month, has completely revolutionised our view of the Cosmos. Image Credit: NASA/STScI

A photograph of the Hubble Space Telescope. taken by the crew of the STS-109 mission, following the successful completion of the fourth Hubble servicing mission in 2002. The iconic orbiting observatory, which celebrates 25 years of successful operation this month, has completely revolutionised our view of the Cosmos. Image Credit: NASA/STScI

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

In the words of a famous Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Likewise, most of the great intellectual and spiritual revolutions and paradigm shifts that have shaped the course of human history were characterised by small and humble beginnings, the importance of which was originally seen as inconsequential at the time. Similarly, the history of physics and astronomy is also characterised by events that have forever changed the way we view the world, from Isaac Newton’s formulation of the laws of motion and Galileo’s first telescopic observations of the night sky in the 17th century, to Albert Einstein’s development of the theories of special and general relativity and Edwin Hubble’s discoveries about the scale and expansion of the Universe in the early 20th century.

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In Their Own Words: Astronauts on 25 Years of Hubble (Part 2)

The Hubble Space Telescope appears to "fly" over Earth as it is photographed during STS-109. Photo Credit: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope appears to “fly” over Earth as it is photographed during STS-109. Photo Credit: NASA

Today marks 25 years since the launch of the STS-31 mission (Discovery), which lofted the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. AmericaSpace continues its tribute to the service life and achievements of HST, which began yesterday with contributions from astronauts Charles Bolden, Steven Hawley, and Story Musgrave. Today, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Claude Nicollier and NASA astronauts Joe Tanner and James Newman reflect upon 25 years of Hubble.

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'Monster Flight': 25 Years Since Launch of Hubble (Part 1)

The moment of deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), as seen from the IMAX Cargo Bay Camera (ICBC). Photo Credit: NASA

The moment of deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), as seen from the IMAX Cargo Bay Camera (ICBC). Photo Credit: NASA

“If there were ever two missions that were completely opposite in terms of the public attention that was given to them,” astronaut Loren Shriver once said, “it would be my first and second missions.” It was no understatement. His first shuttle flight had been totally cloaked in military secrecy, whereas his second launched NASA’s scientific showpiece: the $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope. Today, 24 April 2015, marks 25 years since the telescope was ferried into orbit aboard Shuttle Discovery on STS-31, beginning a journey and an enduring reputation as one of the most successful astronomical observatories ever launches. Over the past quarter-century, Hubble has peered deeper into the Universe than ever before, acquired images of distant galaxies, created breakthroughs in physics and cosmology, witnessed a comet hitting Jupiter, tracked winds on Uranus and Neptune, and—until the middle of May 2015—will continue to hold the record for having taken the most detailed “map” of far-off Pluto. “There was no doubt in my mind,” said Charlie Bolden, STS-31’s pilot and today’s Administrator of NASA, “from the moment I was assigned to the Hubble deployment mission about the historical significance of what we were doing. That was one monster flight!” Yet a mix of misfortune, poor manufacturing, and inadequate program oversight almost turned Hubble from a white knight into a white elephant.  

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Rosetta and Philae Capture First Detailed Magnetic Measurements of a Comet Nucleus

Comet 67P/C-G’s activity – this stunning montage of 18 images from Rosetta’s navcam camera shows off the comet’s activity from many different angles. It covers the time period between 31 January (top left) and 25 March (bottom right), 2015, when the spacecraft was at distances of about 30 to 100 km from the comet. The final frame is from 25 March. At the same time, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was at distances between 363 million and 300 million km from the Sun.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Comet 67P/C-G’s activity!
This stunning montage of 18 images from Rosetta’s navcam camera shows off the comet’s activity from many different angles. It covers the time period between 31 January (top left) and 25 March (bottom right), 2015, when the spacecraft was at distances of about 30 to 100 km from the comet. The final frame is from 25 March. At the same time, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was at distances between 363 million and 300 million km from the Sun. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Europe’s history-making cometary explorersRosetta and Philae—have captured the “first ever detailed measurements of the magnetic properties of a comet nucleus” in our Solar System and found that their target comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is “not magnetized,” according to the research team leading the project.

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In Their Own Words: Astronauts on 25 Years of Hubble (Part 1)

IMAX view of the release of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in April 1990. Photo Credit: NASA

IMAX view of the release of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in April 1990. Photo Credit: NASA

While the astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Discovery may not have yet known it, April 24, 1990, was a watershed date not just in spaceflight history, but in human history: STS-31 launched from LC-39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, lofting the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. While the telescope was waylaid by serious issues shortly after its deployment (most notably a spherical abberation that would render it “nearsighted”), it was famously restored to health over a period of five iconic spacewalks during 1993’s STS-61. During its lifetime, it has supplied researchers with a stockpile of images unlocking the secrets of our Universe. In addition, its five servicing missions (STS-61, STS-82, STS-103, STS-109, and STS-125) provided NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts with valuable insight on how to fix hardware in orbit. At present time, it continues to shed light upon the previously dark, seemingly unreachable depths of space.

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Curiosity Passes 10K Mark Roving to Next Science Destination at 'Logan’s Run'

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover rolling across Mars at the foothills of Mount Sharp, seen in the background, in this mosaic of images taken on April 11, 2015 (Sol 952).  Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover rolling across Mars at the foothills of Mount Sharp, seen in the background, in this mosaic of images taken on April 11, 2015 (Sol 952). Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s intrepid Mars rovers continue setting spectacular records for roving across the fourth rock from the Sun, even as they make marvelous science observations on the rocks they pass virtually every Sol (day) they survive the harsh environmental extremes of the alien Red Planet in search of signatures of habitability and microbes past and present, if they ever existed.

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Just Add Water: Scientists Explain Saturn's Powerful Thunderstorms

A giant storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere, which now extends around the planet, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A giant storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, which now extends around the planet, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thunderstorms are a powerful force of nature, but the ones we experience on Earth are dwarfed by the ones on the gas giant planet Saturn. They are huge and can be larger than Earth itself, and now scientists think they know why they tend to appear most prominently every 20-30 years, encircling the entire planet with intense lightning and massive cloud disturbances.

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