The latest update on activities aboard the Int. Space Station
From last summer’s SETICon 2 event organized by the SETI Institute, here is a video of a panel discussion titled: Visioning the Cosmos – An Artist’s Perspective.
From the video caption the panelists:
This week’s finding from the European Space Observatory (ESO):
The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured a richly colourful view of the bright star cluster NGC 3532. Some of the stars still shine with a hot bluish colour, but many of the more massive ones have become red giants and glow with a rich orange hue.
The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile captured this richly colourful view of the bright star cluster NGC 3532. Some of the stars still shine with a hot bluish colour, but many of the more massive ones have become red giants and glow with a rich orange hue. Credit: ESO/G. Beccari
NGC 3532 is a bright open cluster located some 1300 light-years away in the constellation of Carina (The Keel of the ship Argo). It is informally known as the Wishing Well Cluster, as it resembles scattered silver coins which have been dropped into a well. It is also referred to as the Football Cluster, although how appropriate this is depends on which side of the Atlantic you live. It acquired the name because of its oval shape, which citizens of rugby-playing nations might see as resembling a rugby ball.
This very bright star cluster is easily seen with the naked eye from the southern hemisphere. It was discovered by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille whilst observing from South Africa in 1752 and was catalogued three years later in 1755. It is one of the most spectacular open star clusters in the whole sky.
NGC 3532 covers an area of the sky that is almost twice the size of the full Moon. It was described as a binary-rich cluster by John Herschel who observed “several elegant double stars” here during his stay in southern Africa in the 1830s. Of additional, much more recent, historical relevance, NGC 3532 was the first target to be observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, on 20 May 1990.
This grouping of stars is about 300 million years old. This makes it middle-aged by open star cluster standards . The cluster stars that started off with moderate masses are still shining brightly with blue-white colours, but the more massive ones have already exhausted their supplies of hydrogen fuel and have become red giant stars. As a result the cluster appears rich in both blue and orange stars. The most massive stars in the original cluster will have already run through their brief but brilliant lives and exploded as supernovae long ago. There are also numerous less conspicuous fainter stars of lower mass that have longer lives and shine with yellow or red hues. NGC 3532 consists of around 400 stars in total.
The background sky here in a rich part of the Milky Way is very crowded with stars. Some glowing red gas is also apparent, as well as subtle lanes of dust that block the view of more distant stars. These are probably not connected to the cluster itself, which is old enough to have cleared away any material in its surroundings long ago.
This image of NGC 3532 was captured by the Wide Field Imager instrument at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in February 2013.
Here’s the marvelous story behind the Black Beauty Mars meteorite : A castaway from ancient Mars – Science/AAAS.
Piatek sent the stone to Agee, who wasn’t convinced that it was a meteorite at all. It didn’t have the heft of a chondrite, which are typically rich in dense metals. And the scaly skin—the “fusion crust” that forms on the superheated surface of a falling meteorite—seemed so shiny that it might be fake. “I thought someone had taken a desert stone and spray-painted it,” Agee says. Nonplussed, he stuck the rock on a shelf for a few months. Eventually, in the fall of 2011, he took a diamond-tipped rock saw, sliced off one end of the stone—and marveled at what he saw inside. Dark, angular crystals of pyroxene floated alongside white, chunky feldspars. Large, faint pebbles sat next to tiny, dark beads. It was evocative of the lunar breccias Agee recalled from the Apollo days—except that Black Beauty’s spherules were much more diverse.
Agee now knew he had a meteorite, but what was it? He chipped off a gram piece and put it under an electron microprobe, which uses an electron beam to excite atoms in the rock’s minerals. The atoms then emit x-rays that reveal the sample’s chemical makeup. It turned out that the rock had an elevated manganese-to-iron ratio—higher than that in Earth rocks and consistent with other martian meteorites. Next, Agee and his colleagues used a laser to extract water molecules trapped within minerals in the meteorite and fed them into a mass spectrometer to calculate the ratio of deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen, to ordinary hydrogen. Every place in solar system has a distinctive ratio. Lo and behold, the copious water in Black Beauty was Mars-like.
Designated Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, and nicknamed “Black Beauty,”
the Martian meteorite weighs approximately 11 ounces (320 grams). Credit: NASA
1. Monday, Nov. 24, 2014: 2:00-3:30PM PST (5:00-& 6:30 PM EST, 4:00-5:30 PM CST): We welcome back Erik Seedhouse on his new book, Bigelow Aerospace: Colonizing Space One Module at a Time.
2. Tuesday, Nov. 25 2014:,7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): We welcome back for a full Space Show program the MIT Team that did the Mars One Analysis Study. You will be able to email and phone in questions and comments to team members regarding their study, Mars One, and the issues they investigated. As a primer & for info on the team (their professor will not be joining us), please see our Hotel Mars program from Oct. 15, 2014 ( http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/2337-BWB-2014-10-15.mp3).
3. Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, 9:30 -11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST; 11:30-1 PM CST): No Show due to Thanksgiving Holiday & Space Show listeners rushing off to Wal-Mart for Black Friday! .
4. Sunday, Nov. 30 2014, 12-1:30 PM PST (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST): We welcome back Frank White, author of The Overview Effect. Frank’s new edition of this classic is now available so our guest will share updates and new information with us.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
The movie The Right Stuff, based on Tom Wolfe’s novel about the Mercury 7 astronauts and the test pilot culture from which they emerged, was not a huge box office success when it was released in 1983. However, it was well reviewed and got many film award nominations and wins and subsequently it has become quite a cult favorite.
Here is an extensive collection of memories about the making of the film from those who helped to make it : An Oral History of the Epic Space Film The Right Stuff – WIRED.
Scott Lowther has posted a gallery of images and videos about the three-night miniseries called Ascension that will broadcast on the Syfy channel starting December 15th: The “Ascension” Orion – The Unwanted Blog.
The plot goes as follows:
in 1963, with JFK freaking out that nuclear war was soon going to wipe out mankind, the US secretly launched a starship on a 100-year mission to another system.
Here’s one of the trailers:
David Granger at Esquire Magazine sent me a copy of the nicely written article Away (payment required) by Chris Jones that is in the December print issue. It’s about astronaut Scott Kelly and his upcoming one year mission on the International Space Station. All previous stays by US astronauts have been for six months or less.
The goal of the mission is to study effects on the human body in weightlessness for a mission of a length similar to that of a trip to Mars. After Scott returns to earth, his condition will be compared to that of his twin brother Mark Kelly, a former astronaut himself.
Find more about the program at
[ Update: Here is another article about the 1 year: With An Eye To Mars, NASA is Testing its Astronaut Twins: Scott and Mark Kelly, the only twins to have traveled in space, are embarking on a mission to help NASA prepare for Mars – Smithsonian. ]
Here is an interview with Scott Kelly about the mission:
The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this newly-reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. This is the color view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface at the highest resolution.
Newly enhanced image of Europa (Large version)
NASA JPL also released this video to promote Europa exploration:
Astronomer Phil Plait suggests there is a campaign underway to win a mission to Europa to investigate what is in that ocean : Europa: Remastered image may be prelude to a mission campaign – Slate.com
Space artist Ron Miller writes about the history of art inspired by astronomical phenomena and space exploration : The Art of Space, Envisioning the Universe – Space.com
Space art can be divided into at least two broadly distinct sub-genres: astronomical painting and hardware art. The former is an extension of landscape painting and continues as an art form that has existed for centuries. Astronomical art has roots in the Pre-Raphaelites ,a school of art that demanded precise observation and depiction of nature, and their scrupulous attention to reproducing nature. It follows many of the same precepts as any successful landscape art. Its outstanding practitioners today include Don Davis, Michael Carroll, David Hardy and William Hartmann.
Here is a gallery of Miller’s art: Out of This World: Ron Miller’s Spectacular Space Art – LIFE.com
And here is a gallery of a wide array of space artists: An Astounding History of Scientific Space Art from the Past 200 Years – io9 –
A TV news program visits the Mars Society‘s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah to observe a team carrying out a simulation of a Mars base : A trip to Mars: ABC4 explores a Mars simulation project in southern Utah – Good4Utah.com –
An announcement from NASA:
Ten new projects are providing opportunities for the public to participate in NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which accelerates the agency’s asteroid initiative work through innovative partnerships and collaborations.
Through a Space Act Agreement since April, NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge partner SpaceGAMBIT developed ways to connect the Maker community with NASA’s asteroid work, including educational programs and tools to help astronomers and citizen scientists. Makers are creative people with a drive to answer questions and find new ways to do things.
The 10 new projects developed by SpaceGAMBIT were done in partnership with Maui Makers – a group that provides the space and tools to make new things on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
“SpaceGAMBIT and their partners have created an incredibly wide variety of projects that speak to the strong interest in asteroids and passion of the public to participate in space-related activities,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge. “These projects will inspire NASA audiences and the broader community to learn and get involved.”
The 10 projects are:
“The dinosaurs never had their own space program, nor a maker movement — and look where it got them,” said Alex Cureton-Griffiths of SpaceGAMBIT. “Defending the Earth is a big job, and makers are stepping up to the plate to help humanity take that one giant leap and survive as species.”
NASA is counting on Maker communities to be a part of the solution to asteroid threats. In addition to the 10 new projects with SpaceGAMBIT, NASA is offering a variety of other opportunities for Makers around the country to connect directly with NASA. This includes events like the World Maker Faire and opportunities to solve tough problems through NASA Solve — a program of challenges, prize competitions, and crowdsourcing activities.
Through NASA’s asteroid initiative, the agency seeks to enhance its ongoing work in the identification and characterization of near-Earth objects for further scientific investigation. This work includes locating potentially hazardous asteroids and identifying those viable for redirection to a stable lunar orbit for future exploration by astronauts. The Asteroid Grand Challenge, one part of the asteroid initiative, expands the agency’s efforts beyond traditional boundaries and encourages partnerships and collaboration with a variety of organizations.
For more detail about the 10 projects associated with the Asteroid Grand Challenge, visit: www.spacegambit.org/
For more information on the Asteroid Grand Challenge, visit: www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative
The crowd-funding campaign in support of development of the High Frontier space settlement simulator (see earlier post here), is just $1.5k short of reaching its $10K goal by Nov.26th : High Frontier by Joe Strout — Kickstarter.
The Space Frontier Foundation has endorsed the campaign: Space Frontier Foundation Endorses “High Frontier” Video Game Kickstarter — Space Frontier Foundation.
The goals of the High Frontier project are such a perfect fit with Space Frontier Foundation’s objectives, that SFF is offering a free membership to everyone who pledges $25 or more to the project. Existing members are also strongly encouraged to help, as the success of High Frontier will directly support SFF’s mission of opening the space frontier for all.
And here is an article about the sim: Blasting Off From Colorado, High Frontier Aims to Be the Most Realistic Space Game Ever – Denver Westword –
Players in High Frontier begin by designing their colonies piece by piece, adding living spaces, solar generators, communications arrays and other components together into a single station. Then they sit back and watch as new residents arrive and populate the colony, gauging their reactions to their new home via messages on a Twitter-like network called Squawker.
The game gives players almost-total control over the parameters of their colony — its shape, the soil depth, the thickness of the radiation shielding — and every detail makes a difference. Make it rotate too slowly, and residents will become weak from the low gravity; neglect to put in enough radiators, and they’ll complain about the stifling heat. Botch the geometry of the colony, and it will spin wildly, throwing everything inside out of whack.
Here is the Kickstarter video again:
The latest NASA report on activities on board and in support of the Int. Space Station:
A new fining from ESA/Hubble:
Thanks to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, some of the most mysterious cosmic residents have just become even more puzzling. New observations of globular clusters in a small galaxy show they are very similar to those found in the Milky Way, and so must have formed in a similar way. One of the leading theories on how these clusters form predicts that globular clusters should only be found nestled in among large quantities of old stars. But these old stars, though rife in the Milky Way, are not present in this small galaxy, and so, the mystery deepens.
Four globular clusters in the dwarf galaxy Fornax.
Left to right: Fornax 1, Fornax 2, Fornax 3 and Fornax 5.
Their positions within the galaxy are shown below.
New observations of the clusters — large balls of stars that orbit the centres of galaxies — show they are very similar to those found in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The finding is at odds with leading theories on how these clusters form — in these theories, globular clusters should be nestled among large quantities of old stars — and so the mystery of how these objects came to exist deepens.
Globular clusters — large balls of stars that orbit the centres of galaxies, but can lie very far from them — remain one of the biggest cosmic mysteries. They were once thought to consist of a single population of stars that all formed together. However, research has since shown that many of the Milky Way’s globular clusters had far more complex formation histories and are made up of at least two distinct populations of stars.
Of these populations, around half the stars are a single generation of normal stars that were thought to form first, and the other half form a second generation of stars, which are polluted with different chemical elements. In particular, the polluted stars contain up to 50-100 times more nitrogen than the first generation of stars.
The proportion of polluted stars found in the Milky Way’s globular clusters is much higher than astronomers expected, suggesting that a large chunk of the first generation star population is missing. A leading explanation for this is that the clusters once contained many more stars but a large fraction of the first generation stars were ejected from the cluster at some time in its past.
This explanation makes sense for globular clusters in the Milky Way, where the ejected stars could easily hide among the many similar, old stars in the vast halo, but the new observations, which look at this type of cluster in a much smaller galaxy, call this theory into question.
Digitized Sky Survey 2 image of the dwarf galaxy Fornax. Highlighted here are four
globular clusters found in the galaxy called Fornax 1, 2, 3 and 5. (Large image)
“We knew that the Milky Way’s clusters were more complex than was originally thought, and there are theories to explain why. But to really test our theories about how these clusters form we needed to know what happened in other environments,”says Søren Larsen of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, lead author of the new paper. “Before now we didn’t know whether globular clusters in smaller galaxies had multiple generations or not, but our observations show clearly that they do!”
The astronomers’ detailed observations of the four Fornax clusters show that they also contain a second polluted population of stars  and indicate that not only did they form in a similar way to one another, their formation process is also similar to clusters in the Milky Way. Specifically, the astronomers used the Hubble observations to measure the amount of nitrogen in the cluster stars, and found that about half of the stars in each cluster are polluted at the same level that is seen in Milky Way’s globular clusters.
This high proportion of polluted second generation stars means that the Fornax globular clusters’ formation should be covered by the same theory as those in the Milky Way.
Based on the number of polluted stars in these clusters they would have to have been up to ten times more massive in the past, before kicking out huge numbers of their first generation stars and reducing to their current size. But, unlike the Milky Way, the galaxy that hosts these clusters doesn’t have enough old stars to account for the huge number that were supposedly banished from the clusters.
“If these kicked-out stars were there, we would see them — but we don’t!” explains Frank Grundahl of Aarhus University in Denmark, co-author on the paper. “Our leading formation theory just can’t be right. There’s nowhere that Fornax could have hidden these ejected stars, so it appears that the clusters couldn’t have been so much larger in the past.”
This finding means that a leading theory on how these mixed generation globular clusters formed cannot be correct and astronomers will have to think once more about how these mysterious objects, in the Milky Way and further afield, came to exist.
The new work is detailed in a paper published today, 20 November 2014, in The Astrophysical Journal.
Video about the findings:
A report from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):
New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside.
Artist’s impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation axes.
Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.
A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium used the FORS instrument on the VLT to study 93 quasars that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age.
“The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars’ rotation axes were aligned with each other — despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years,” said Hutsemékers.
The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.
When astronomers look at the distribution of galaxies on scales of billions of light-years they find that they are not evenly distributed. They form a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce. This intriguing and beautiful arrangement of material is known as large-scale structure.
The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.
“A correlation between the orientation of quasars and the structure they belong to is an important prediction of numerical models of evolution of our Universe. Our data provide the first observational confirmation of this effect, on scales much larger that what had been observed to date for normal galaxies,” adds Dominique Sluse of the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie in Bonn, Germany and University of Liège.
The team could not see the rotation axes or the jets of the quasars directly. Instead they measured the polarisation of the light from each quasar and, for 19 of them, found a significantly polarised signal. The direction of this polarisation, combined with other information, could be used to deduce the angle of the accretion disc and hence the direction of the spin axis of the quasar.
“The alignments in the new data, on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations, may be a hint that there is a missing ingredient in our current models of the cosmos,” concludes Dominique Sluse.
I recently posted about SpaceTraveller, ”a solar system simulator and space mission visualizer program” under development by BINARY SPACE (see Simulating Rosetta and Philae with ‘SpaceTraveller’). Here is an animation created with SpaceTraveller showing the Philae lander as it bounces twice on Comet 67P/C-G. The parameters for the first bounce were derived from the Rosetta images released yesterday (see previous posting). The second bounce uses a guess for the recoil velocity. Eventually ESA will find the lander and it will be interesting to see how close this simulation came to predicting where Philae settled on the comet.
For further info on SpaceTraveller, contact email@example.com.