NASA has provided an update on the first integrated launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft after completing a comprehensive review of the launch schedule. This first un-crewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for NASA's human deep space exploration goals. EM-1 lays the foundation for the first crewed flight of SLS and Orion, as well as a regular cadence of missions thereafter near the Moon and eventually to the asteroids and Mars. NASA is currently managing the program to a scheduled December 2019 launch.
Have you missed out on WorldWide Telescope (WWT) because you're not using a Windows computer? Good news -- WWT can now be accessed via a web interface, with no dependence on your Operating System. WWT is a powerful application that allows users to interactively browse the multi-wavelength sky. Based on feedback from the astronomy community, WWT has now expanded its support so that anyone can use the full features of this application from their web browser.
For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves (ripples in space-time) together with the light from a spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been observed with both gravitational waves and light. The discovery was made using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US, the Virgo detector in Italy, and some 70 ground and space-based observatories. As two neutron stars spiraled together about 130 million years ago, they emitted gravitational waves that were detected for about 100 seconds on August 17, 2017. In the days and weeks following the initial discovery, a full spectrum of light and electromagnetic radiation from the event (including X-ray, ultraviolet (UV), optical, infrared (IR) and radio waves) were detected and analyzed -- A treasure trove of material that will keep scientist busy for years to come.
Yellowstone, one of the world's largest active volcanic systems, has produced several giant volcanic eruptions in the past few million years, as well as many smaller eruptions and steam explosions. Although no eruptions of lava or volcanic ash have occurred for many thousands of years, future eruptions are likely. In the next few hundred years, hazards will most probably be limited to ongoing geyser and hot spring activity, with occasional steam explosions and moderate to large earthquakes. To better understand Yellowstone's volcano and earthquake hazards and to help protect the public, the US Geological Survey, the University of Utah, and Yellowstone National Park formed the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, which continuously monitors activity in the region.
Welcome to the night sky report for October 2017 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep-sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase, so get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard. In the now famous words of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens), "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
History changed 60 years ago today, on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1. The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball -- about 23 inches diameter -- and weighed less than 190 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That single launch ushered in a whole array of new political, military, technological, and scientific developments in the years that followed. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the Space Age and the US - USSR space race.
Astronomers have identified a bumper crop of dual supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. This discovery could help astronomers better understand how giant black holes grow and how they may produce the strongest gravitational wave signals in the Universe. The new evidence reveals five pairs of supermassive black holes, each containing millions of times the mass of the Sun. These black hole couples formed when two galaxies collided and merged with each other, forcing their supermassive black holes close together.
The scorching hot surface of Mercury seems like an unlikely place to look for ice, but research over the past three decades has suggested that surface water is frozen at the two poles of the planet, hidden away on crater floors that are permanently shadowed from the Sun's blistering rays. Now, a new study led by Brown University researchers suggests that there could be much more ice on Mercury's surface than originally thought.
The smallest star yet measured has been discovered by a team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge in the UK. With a size just a sliver larger than that of Saturn, the gravitational pull at its stellar surface is about 300 times stronger than what humans feel on Earth. The star is likely as small as stars can possibly become, as it has just enough mass to enable the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. If it were any smaller, the pressure at the center of the star would no longer be sufficient to enable this process to take place.
After two decades in space, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its remarkable journey of exploration. Having expended almost every bit of its rocket propellant, operators are deliberately plunging Cassini into the giant planet to ensure that Saturn's moons will remain pristine and uncontaminated for future exploration -- in particular, the ice covered, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, and Titan, with its intriguing pre-biotic chemistry. From its launch in 1997 to its upcoming Grand Finale, the Cassini-Huygens mission has racked up a remarkable list of achievements, and in the process has paved the way for the next generation of probes that will explore the four outer gaseous planets.
Do you yawn when you read an Astromart News posting? I hope not. But if you do, does your spouse or significant other also yawn even though he or she is across the room? Why is that so? Is this what Albert Einstein would label "Spooky action at a distance?" Nah. But still, why do we yawn if someone else does? Researchers at the University of Nottingham suggest that the human propensity for contagious yawning is triggered automatically by primitive reflexes in the primary motor cortex -- an area of the brain responsible for motor function. Their latest findings show that our ability to resist yawning when someone else near us yawns is limited... And our urge to yawn is increased if we are instructed to resist yawning.
To the unaided eye the famous bright star Antares shines with a strong red tint in the heart of the constellation Scorpius. It is a huge and comparatively cool red supergiant in the late stages of its life, on the way to becoming a supernova. A team of astronomers, led by Keiichi Ohnaka, of the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, used ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile to map Antares' surface and to measure the motions of the surface material. This is the best image of the surface and atmosphere of any star other than the Sun.
For the average observer, the Solar Eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality. The National Solar Observatory (NSO), in a unique experiment, plans to create 90 minutes of continuous totality using a chain of 68 telescopes strategically placed across the country. The Citizen CATE (Continental America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment aims to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of telescopes operated by volunteer citizen scientists, high school groups, and universities. The goal of CATE is to produce a scientifically unique data set -- A series of high resolution, rapid cadence white light images of the inner corona for 90 straight minutes.
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