Mystery Deepens: New Study Shows Comets Don't Explain Odd Dimming of Kepler's 'Weird Star'

The mystery surrounding KIC 8462852 may not involve comets after all, but it is still an enigma for astronomers. Image Credit: NASA

The mystery surrounding KIC 8462852 may not involve comets after all, but it is still an enigma for astronomers. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As has been reported previously on AmericaSpace, and elsewhere, there is something weird going on around a star which is a little over 1,400 light-years away. Astronomers are still baffled as to just what that is, and theories have ranged from a huge mass of comets to alien megastructures. Indeed, comets had become the leading explanation offered for the star’s odd behavior, although that was really just the best of a bunch of ideas which all had flaws in them. Now, new research shows that the comet explanation is even less likely to be the answer, although the actual explanation is still as elusive as ever. Needless to say, this has resulted in a lot of discussion and debate in the past few months.

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Still an 'Inspiration': Space Shuttle Mockup Moved, Will Undergo Upgrades

"Inspiration" on the move: On Saturday, Jan. 16, the space shuttle mockup was moved from its mounts to a new home across the Indian River. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

“Inspiration” on the move: On Saturday, Jan. 16, the space shuttle mockup was moved from its mounts to a new home across the Indian River. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

In collaboration with collectSPACE

Changes are taking place along NASA Causeway, the stretch of road leading to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida’s Brevard County. For those who have driven past the former Space Camp Florida/U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame building in Titusville, the space shuttle mockup “Inspiration” has been a grand roadside vision since its inception in 1992. These days, the old Hall of Fame is closed, and Inspiration has fallen into disrepair after years of not being used.

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Last Falcon 9 v1.1 Successfully Boosts Jason-3 to Orbit, Reportedly Suffers Landing Leg Breakage During Oceanic Touchdown

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, , Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, , Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Despite ground fog which rolled across Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., virtually obscuring the star of the show from view in its final minutes on Earth, SpaceX successfully delivered its 15th and final Falcon 9 v1.1 booster aloft earlier today (Sunday, 17 January) and transported the joint NASA/NOAA Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission into a polar orbit which will carry it from an altitude of 825 miles (1,328 km) at perigee to 857 miles (1,380 km) at apogee. The on-time launch took place on the opening of a 30-second “window” at 10:42:18 a.m. PST (1:42:18 p.m. EST) from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at the West Coast launch facility and served to redeem the v1.1’s reputation one last time, following its catastrophic failure last June. It also appeared that the attempt to land its first-stage hardware on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) was achieved successfully, though harder than intended, resulting in the breakage of one of the Falcon 9’s quartet of landing legs.

Continue reading Last Falcon 9 v1.1 Successfully Boosts Jason-3 to Orbit, Reportedly Suffers Landing Leg Breakage During Oceanic Touchdown

'How Adaptable Humans Are': 20 Years Since STS-72 (Part 2)

Grappled by Endeavour's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) mechanical arm, the Japanese Space Flyer Unit (SFU) satellite is readied for installation in the payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Grappled by Endeavour’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS) mechanical arm, the Japanese Space Flyer Unit (SFU) satellite is readied for installation in the payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Two decades ago, last week, in January 1996, Shuttle Endeavour and a six-man crew—Commander Brian Duffy, Pilot Brent Jett, and Mission Specialists Leroy Chiao, Winston Scott, Dan Barry, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata—rocketed into orbit in pursuit of Japan’s Space Flyer Unit (SFU). Launched 10 months earlier, the octagonal satellite carried a mixture of biological, technological, and astronomical experiments, and it was the task of STS-72 to recover it from orbit and bring it back to Earth. Additionally, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the crew was expected to deploy and retrieve another satellite, support several experiments, and perform two EVAs to support critical hardware tests for the International Space Station (ISS).  

Continue reading ‘How Adaptable Humans Are’: 20 Years Since STS-72 (Part 2)

Mission for Japan: 20 Years Since STS-72 (Part 1)

Twenty years ago, this week, STS-72 showcased the Space Shuttle's myriad capabilities in satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous, science and spacewalking. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago, this week, STS-72 showcased the space shuttle’s myriad capabilities in satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous, science, and spacewalking. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago, this week, six astronauts executed a mission which put virtually all of the space shuttle’s capabilities—satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous and proximity operations, research, and spacewalking—to the test, as well as providing a great insight into the work that NASA would require to build the International Space Station (ISS). STS-72, launched aboard Endeavour on 11 January 1996, was tasked with capturing a Japanese spacecraft, after 10 months in orbit, as well as deploying and retrieving a small free-flying satellite and evaluating tools for ISS assembly and maintenance.

Continue reading Mission for Japan: 20 Years Since STS-72 (Part 1)

Record-Shattering, Ultra-Luminous Hypernova Explosion Stuns Astronomers, Poses New Cosmic Mystery

An artist's impression of the record-breakingly powerful, superluminous supernova ASASSN-15lh that was recently discovered by the Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN), as it would appear from a hypothetical exoplanet located about 10,000 light years away in the host galaxy of the hypernova. (Image Credit: Beijing Planetarium / Jin Ma)

An artist’s impression of the record-breakingly powerful, superluminous supernova ASASSN-15lh that was recently discovered by the Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN), as it would appear from a hypothetical exoplanet located about 10,000 light years away in the host galaxy of the hypernova. (Image Credit: Beijing Planetarium / Jin Ma)

A means to portray the differences between the properties of two objects in our everyday speech is the use of comparative adjectives, and their superlative counterparts have become a staple of astronomical nomenclature, with newly discovered cosmic objects often described as the “largest,” “brightest,” or “most energetic” ever seen. A new discovery of a gargantuan hypernova explosion at a distant galaxy is now set to give new meaning to these comparative expressions by setting new standards to how powerful and energetic these cataclysmic events can be and at the same time pose a new stellar mystery as to the nature and origins of some of the most violent astrophysical phenomena in the Universe.

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SpaceX Primed for Final Falcon 9 v1.1 Launch on Sunday

Sunday's launch of Jason-3 marks the final flight of the Falcon 9 in its v1.1 configuration. Future missions will utilize the Upgraded Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Sunday’s launch of Jason-3 marks the final flight of the Falcon 9 in its v1.1 configuration. Future missions will utilize the Upgraded Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Less than 28 months since its maiden voyage—which delivered Canada’s low-Earth orbiting Cascade, SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) aloft, back in September 2013—SpaceX stands ready to close out a remarkable chapter in its short history tomorrow (Sunday), as it stages the last launch of its “standard” Falcon 9 v1.1. Slated to boost the Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., during a 30-second “window”, which opens at 10:42:18 a.m. PST (1:42:18 p.m. EST), the v1.1 will wrap up a run of 15 missions, all but one of which have proven successful and delivered their primary payloads into the desired operational orbits. As well as marking SpaceX’s 21st overall flight by a member of the Falcon 9 family, the completion of tomorrow’s mission will pass the baton to the Upgraded Falcon 9, which debuted last month. Launching Jason-3 also opens the floodgates to an ambitious 2016 for the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services company, which supported a successful Static Fire Test of its newly-returned Upgraded Falcon 9 on Friday and hopes to fly its inaugural Falcon Heavy by mid-year.

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US and UK Spacewalkers Repair, Replace, Remove, and Install Hardware Outside Space Station

Tim Kopra (center) works at the S-6 truss segment during the effort to replace the failed Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) for Power Channel 1B. Photo Credit: NASA

Tim Kopra (center) works at the S-6 truss segment during the effort to replace the failed Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) for Power Channel 1B. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 46 astronauts Tim Kopra of NASA and Britain’s Tim Peake have completed a somewhat truncated four-hour and 43-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS), successfully replacing a failed Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) and tending to a number of “get-ahead” tasks, including power and data cable installation, ahead of the expected debut of Commercial Crew vehicles by mid-2017. The duo also supported the re-installation of a Non-Propulsive Valve (NPV) onto the Tranquility node, but the completion of the cabling work and a couple of other activities were called off and U.S. EVA-35 terminated early when water was spotted inside Kopra’s helmet. This brought back unpleasant memories of a water-intrusion incident in Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s suit, back in July 2013, and it was prudent for the EVA to be curtailed in the interests of safety. Wrapping up his third career EVA, Kopra now has a total of 13 hours and 31 minutes of spacewalking time under his belt, whilst Peake—who last month became Britain’s first “official” astronaut, formally sponsored by the UK Government—was embarking on his first excursion into vacuum.

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Dream Chaser's First Launch Will Fly to ISS, SNC Outlines Testing and Development Plans Ahead

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser engineering test article (ETA ahead of its second flight test program, expected to begin soon at Edwards AFB in California soon. The first Dream Chaser launch to the ISS will be in 2019, SNC's new flight test program eliminates the need for an orbital flight test before the first CRS-2 flight for NASA. Photo Credit: SNC

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser engineering test article (ETA ahead of its second flight test program, expected to begin soon at Edwards AFB in California soon. The first Dream Chaser launch to the ISS will be in 2019, SNC’s new flight test program eliminates the need for an orbital flight test before the first CRS-2 flight for NASA. Photo Credit: SNC

Yesterday, NASA announced the winners of their multi-billion dollar second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024. SpaceX secured a contract with their Falcon-9 and Dragon systems, and Orbital ATK secured a contract with their Cygnus spacecraft, flying atop their own Antares rocket and ULA’s Atlas-V. And Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), who was not selected by NASA when they awarded SpaceX and Boeing big commercial crew contracts, was awarded a cargo contract too, allowing for the dream of their Dream Chaser spaceplane to now become a reality.

In the time since losing the crew contract SNC has been relatively quiet about Dream Chaser development, but they have been busy ever since continuing to upgrade their flight test article, developing a second flight test series for it, speaking with other government space agencies and private companies to find a market for Dream Chaser without NASA funding (read our 1-on-1 interview with SNC regarding an international Dream Chaser HERE), and building the structure of their first operational orbital vehicle (thanks to Lockheed Martin).

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Jason-3 Critical to Understanding Rising Sea Levels: Interview with Project Scientist Josh Willis (Part 1)

The Jason-3 satellite undergoing final preparations for placement within a payload fairing for launch atop a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, currently scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 17 from Vandenberg AFB in southern CA. Photo Credit: NASA

The Jason-3 satellite undergoing final preparations for placement within a payload fairing for launch atop a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, currently scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 17 from Vandenberg AFB in southern CA. Photo Credit: NASA

On January 17, an Earth science spacecraft designed to measure the surface topography of our planet’s ocean is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Complex 4 East. Aboard the craft, a highly accurate radar altimeter capable of measuring the ocean’s surface elevation in any given spot to within 3 centimeters will monitor changes in Earth’s sea level. Jason-3 will be the fourth instrument in an uninterrupted, 23-year study of our ocean’s wave motion, currents and rising waters.

Continue reading Jason-3 Critical to Understanding Rising Sea Levels: Interview with Project Scientist Josh Willis (Part 1)