Texas honors Citizen-Astronaut candidates

A message from Citizens in Space:

Texas Honors Citizen-Astronaut Candidates

New “Admirals” to Play Key Role in Future Texas Space Program

(Austin, Texas) Two citizen-astronaut candidates have been honored by the state of Texas. Edward Wright and Maureen Adams are among the latest Texans to be awarded commissions as Admirals in the Texas Navy by Governor Rick Perry.

Admirals Wright and Adams are two of the five astronaut candidates currently being trained by Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, to fly on the Lynx spacecraft. Citizens in Space has acquired a contract for 10 flights on the Lynx, currently under construction by XCOR Aerospace. Each flight will carry up to 10 experiments, with a citizen astronaut acting as experiment operator.

The Lynx is a reusable, suborbital spacecraft designed to fly four times a day. In 2012, Governor Perry announced that XCOR Aerospace would move its flight-test center to Midland, Texas. The move is expected to occur later this year. XCOR could conduct as many as 520 spaceflights each year from Midland, according to the city’s FAA launch-site license application.

The Texas Navy was reactivated as an honorary organization by the Governor of Texas in 1958. The flagship of the Texas Navy, the retired battleship USS Texas, does not sail but is on static display at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas.

Texas Navy Admirals are selected by the Governor’s office and commissioned “with the duty of assisting in the preservation of the history, boundaries, water resources, and defense of the state.”

“That is a duty we take seriously,” Admiral Wright said. “Water resources are of great concern to us in Texas, with a large part of the state locked in severe drought for the past few years. Some of the experiments we are planning are directly related to the water cycle. For example, researchers have discovered that precipitation is affected by microorganisms in the atmosphere. The Lynx may provide a useful way of sampling those organisms.”

Awarding honorary rank or titles to explorers is not a new idea, Admiral Adams said. “There is a historic tradition, dating back to the age of sea and air exploration. Columbus was honored with with title of ‘Admiral of the Ocean Sea.’ In the 20th Century, aviation pioneer Roscoe Turner was appointed as a lieutenant colonel by the Governor of Nevada, then elevated to colonel by the Governor of California. Britain awards knighthoods.”

Edward Wright is the founder of the United States Rocket Academy and program manager for Citizens in Space. He resides in Plano, Texas. Maureen Adams is a science teacher and school principal in Killeen, Texas.

Also among the Admirals commissioned by Governor Perry was Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace.

Additional information about Citizens in Space can be found at www.citizensinspace.org.

An Exoplanet’s day measured for first time

An announcement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Length of Exoplanet Day Measured for First Time
VLT measures the spin of Beta Pictoris b

Observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have, for the first time, determined the rotation rate of an exoplanet. Beta Pictoris b has been found to have a day that lasts only eight hours. This is much quicker than any planet in the Solar System — its equator is moving at almost 100 000 kilometres per hour. This new result extends the relation between mass and rotation seen in the Solar System to exoplanets. Similar techniques will allow astronomers to map exoplanets in detail in the future with the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Artist’s impression of the planet Beta Pictoris b

Exoplanet Beta Pictoris b orbits the naked-eye star Beta Pictoris [1][2], which lies about 63 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Pictor (The Painter’s Easel). This planet was discovered nearly six years ago and was one of the first exoplanets to be directly imaged. It orbits its host star at a distance of only eight times the Earth-Sun distance (eso1024) — making it the closest exoplanet to its star ever to be directly imaged [3].

eso1414bThis graphic shows the rotation speeds of several of the planets
in the Solar System along with the recently measured spin rate
of the planet Beta Pictoris b

Using the CRIRES instrument on the VLT, a team of Dutch astronomers from Leiden University and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) have now found that the equatorial rotation velocity of exoplanet Beta Pictoris b is almost 100 000 kilometres per hour. By comparison, Jupiter’s equator has a velocity of about 47 000 km per hour [4], while the Earth’s travels at only 1700 km per hour [5]. Beta Pictoris b is more than 16 times larger and 3000 times more massive than the Earth, yet a day on the planet only lasts 8 hours.

It is not known why some planets spin fast and others more slowly,” says co-author Remco de Kok, “but this first measurement of an exoplanet’s rotation shows that the trend seen in the Solar System, where the more massive planets spin faster, also holds true for exoplanets. This must be some universal consequence of the way planets form.

Beta Pictoris b is a very young planet, only about 20 million years old (compared to 4.5 billion years for the Earth) [6]. Over time, the exoplanet is expected to cool and shrink, which will make it spin even faster [7]. On the other hand, other processes might be at play that change the spin of the planet. For instance, the spin of the Earth is slowing down over time due to the tidal interactions with our Moon.

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This sequence starts with a broad view of the southern sky and closes in
on the bright star Beta Pictoris in the constellation of Pictor(The Artist’s
Easel). This young star is surrounded by a dusty disc and also orbited
by a large planet that is the first exoplanet to have had its spin measured.
It has an equatorial rotation velocity of almost 100 000 kilometres/hour
— much faster than any of the planets in the Solar System.

The astronomers made use of a precise technique called high-dispersion spectroscopy to split light into its constituent colours — different wavelengths in the spectrum. The principle of the Doppler effect (or Doppler shift) allowed them to use the change in wavelength to detect that different parts of the planet were moving at different speeds and in opposite directions relative to the observer. By very carefully removing the effects of the much brighter parent star they were able to extract the rotation signal from the planet.

We have measured the wavelengths of radiation emitted by the planet to a precision of one part in a hundred thousand, which makes the measurements sensitive to the Doppler effects that can reveal the velocity of emitting objects,” says lead author Ignas Snellen. “Using this technique we find that different parts of the planet’s surface are moving towards or away from us at different speeds, which can only mean that the planet is rotating around its axis“.

This technique is closely related to Doppler imaging, which has been used for several decades to map the surfaces of stars, and recently that of a brown dwarf [8] — Luhman 16B (eso1404). The fast spin of Beta Pictoris b means that in the future it will be possible to make a global map of the planet, showing possible cloud patterns and large storms.\


The position of the star Beta Pictoris is marked with a circle on this
chart of the constellation Pictor (The Painter’s Easel).  As indicated
by its name, this is the second brightest star in its constellation.
Together with most of the stars marked on this chart, it can
be seen in a dark sky with the unaided eye.

This technique can be used on a much larger sample of exoplanets with the superb resolution and sensitivity of the E-ELT and an imaging high-dispersion spectrograph. With the planned  Mid-infrared E-ELT Imager and Spectrograph (METIS) we will be able to make global maps of exoplanets and characterise much smaller planets than Beta Pictoris b with this technique”, says METIS principal investigator and co-author of the new paper, Bernhard Brandl.

Space policy roundup – April.29.14 [Update]

Today’s selection of space policy/politics related links:


May 2nd concert includes ISS astronaut and Texas music students

A message from NASA:

Texas Music Students to Perform Live
with Space Station Astronaut

Expedition 39 commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, currently aboard the International Space Station, will make space-to-Earth musical connections with students in Texas this week to share and explore the relationship between the arts and space exploration.

Students from Pearl Hall Elementary in Pasadena, Texas, will perform songs with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Houston Symphony violinist Sergei Galperin and violinist Kenji Williams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. From the space station, Wakata will perform a piece of the ancient Gagaku music with a Japanese reed instrument called a sho.

The live “Music in Space” program will be broadcast on NASA Television and webcasted on the DLiNfo Channel at 12:30 p.m. EDT Friday, May 2.

To attend the event at Johnson, media should contact Megan Sumner at 281-483-5111 or megan.c.sumner@nasa.gov.  Johnson Space Center is located at 2101 NASA Parkway, Houston.

This is the second “Music in Space” event. The first featured astronaut Chris Hadfield formerly of the Canadian Space Agency in March 2013. This event is a part of the Building Cultural Bridges program, which links Pearl Hall Elementary with Johnson Space Center and several arts organizations, providing opportunities for students to discover that they are an integral part of society at the local, state, national and international levels.

Linking students directly to space station astronauts provides them with an innovative experience of space exploration, scientific studies and the possibilities for future human space exploration.

These in-flight education events are part of a series with educational organizations in the United States to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching and learning. It is a component of NASA’s Digital Learning Network education program, which is designed to deliver interactive instruction in support of long-term retention of knowledge as only NASA can.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedules and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

To watch the Digital Learning Network webcast, visit: https://dln.nasa.gov

For information about NASA’s education programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/education

For information about the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station

To follow Twitter updates from Wakata, visit: https://twitter.com/Astro_Wakata

To follow Twitter updates from Coleman, visit: https://twitter.com/Astro_Cady