Tag: astronomy and space
Assuming the standard model is true, our universe’s end will likely all come down to one of three theories, each of which depends upon three things: the shape of the universe, how much dark energy is contained within it, and how the densities of dark energy will respond to the expansion of the universe.
There are believed to be three possible shapes of the universe: an open universe, a flat universe, and a closed plane of space-time.
In an open universe (think of a gigantic, saddle-shaped object), the universe is likely to experience the Big Freeze. In this scenario, the universe will continue to expand until matter has stretched incredibly thin, the stars have all burnt out, galaxies have ceased creating new stars to replace them, and all mass as we know it has ceased to exist. Everything will become dark and cold. The universe won’t so much as end as it will simply fizzle out, settling into a silent and lonely slumber at absolute zero.
Another possibility for universal armageddon is the Big Rip. Not as dependent on the shape of the universe as much as the amount of dark energy contained within it, this model implies that the acceleration of the universe will continue to increase without slowing, and the dark energy will become so strong that it will overwhelm the other elemental forces. Galaxies, suns, and planets alike will begin tearing themselves apart, all ending in a gravitational singularity — a place in which the standard rules of physics and relativity no longer apply.
Somewhat less unsettling is the theory of the Big Crunch, in which the universe will continue to expand until matter begins to slow the rate of expansion. Once slowed enough, the expansion will eventually come to a halt and begin to retract. Everything — planets, suns, galaxies, black holes, even the indestructible iPad 7000 — will all come crashing back together, culminating in a Big Crunch: essentially the opposite of the Big Bang that kicked our universe off in the first place. The bright side here is that the crunch is thought to be succeeded by yet another Big Bang and the creation of a whole new universe. Unfortunately, of the three, the Big Crunch is currently the least favored hypothesis within the physics community — meaning our dreams of an endlessly cycling universe of birth, destruction, and rebirth may end up being relegated to the realm of science fiction.
Dark matter continues to confound astronomers, as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory demonstrated with the detection of an extensive envelope of dark matter around an isolated elliptical galaxy. This discovery conflicts with optical data that suggest a dearth of dark matter around similar galaxies, and raises questions about how galaxies acquire and keep such dark matter halos.
Dark matter is a mysterious kind of glue that holds not only the mysterious together, but is theoretically responsible for their creation. It was originally suggested in 1933 to explain discrepancies math by calculating the mass of galaxies, essentially, more material is needed to keep the galaxies together, we can see. Since then, we have not learned a whole hell of a lot more about dark matter.
In fact, we seem to know more about this itisn’t than it is. We know there is no antimatter. We also know that there is no dark clouds of normal matter. Many physicists believe that it represents about 83% of matter in the universe – even if we still have to prove that it exists!
The tricky thing with the dark matter is that we can not be detected directly, it is invisible. Dark matter is revealed by its severity, so we have, instead of measuring it through its interaction with normal matter. Currently, there are two contradictory experiments conducted in an attempt to confirm the existence of dark matter.
The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) detector Sudan mine in Minnesota is the search for weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs, whose discovery could resolve the problem of dark matter. Although the dark matter should be everywhere, it is estimated that some WIMPs can pass through the galaxy without interacting with normal matter, making it very difficult to discover. Although scientists have not yet detected WIMPs directly, they found significant evidence that they exist.
In direct conflict with these results, the XENON100 experience in Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy has so far yielded negative results with respect to the WIMP. This does not mean that WIMPs exist, but simply that they are harder to detect than scientists had previously assumed.
The world’s biggest astronomy project provides a view of space unmatched by other observatories.
A powerful telescope affording a view of the universe unmatched by most ground-based observatories gazed onto distant galaxies for the first time Monday from deep in Chile’s Atacama desert.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, a joint project between Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and the United States, officially opened for astronomers after a decade of planning and construction.
The world’s biggest astronomy project, ALMA is described as the most powerful millimeter/submillimeter-wavelength telescope ever and the most complex ground-based observatory.
The first images arrived at the mega-site in northern Chile from 12 of the 66 radio telescopes.
“Today marks the recognition of the successful coalition of thousands of people from all over the world all working with the same goal: to build the world’s most advanced radio telescope to see into the universe’s coldest, darkest places, where galaxies and stars and perhaps the building blocks of life are created,” said ALMA director Thijs de Graauw.
ALMA differs from visible-light and infrared telescopes by using an array of linked antennas acting as a single giant telescope, and detects much longer wavelengths than those of visible light, rendering images unlike most others of the cosmos.
NASA releases the sharpest images ever of walking paths and debris at the Apollo landing sites.
A spacecraft around the moon broke the highest ever pictures of the tracks and debris left by the Apollo astronauts on their visits from 1969 to 1972.
Orbiter images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance of 13 to 15 miles up the road show when astronauts walked on the moon, and the ruts left by a moon buggy. Experts could even identify the astronauts back to lunar landers acute prior to their return to Earth.
“What we see is a track,” said Arizona State University geology professor Mark Robinson, chief scientist for the orbiter. “It’s really great.” However, the photos are not close enough to see individual Bootprints said Robinson.
The photos were taken two weeks ago and to show the landing sites of Apollo 12, 14 and 17. The images are closer to the Apollo 17 site in 1972, the last lunar mission.
Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan wrote in an email to the Associated Press that the picture gives him a chance to review these days “, this time with a bit of nostalgia and disappointment. Nostalgie because these special days are fondly etched in my memory and disappointment, as it now looks like we will not be back in the days I have left on this planet. ”
Two years ago, images of the same spacecraft 30 and 60 miles showed blurred images. But this year, the orbiter dropped to about 300,000 to more close-ups. The traces left by the astronauts are clear, but where the backpacks were rejected, moon buggy Apollo 17 and the lower parts of lunar landers three are unclear.
“You really have to look long to find what you’re looking at,” said Robinson. For example, when it comes to the moon buggy he said, “if you squint real hard, you can solve the wheels and that the wheels are turned slightly to the left.”
At first, scientists thought they had a bit of a mystery: They saw more things than expected. It turned out to be packing material and an insulating blanket, said Robinson.
After 40 years it does not seem to be much of moon dust covering the synthetic tracks. It will probably take about 10 to 100 million years for the dust cover, said Robinson.
The photos were released a few days after the start of the new feature film “Apollo 18” and above to be launched Thursday from the NASA spacecraft to explore robotic doubles the gravity of the moon.
Apollo 18 movie which The Weinstein Company has been touting as a “found footage” thriller, which consists of “actual footage” from a mysterious moon mission that never ‘officially’ took place, although many conspiracy theorists believe it did.
NASA has now taken its official stance, insisting Apollo 18 is a work of fiction. Here’s what NASA spokesperson Bert Ulrich had to say below.
“Apollo 18 is not a documentary. The film is a work of fiction, and we always knew that. We were minimally involved with this picture. We never even saw a rough cut. The idea of portraying the Apollo 18 mission as authentic is simply a marketing ploy. Perhaps a bit of a Blair Witch Project strategy to generate hype.”
However, Bert Ulrich does believe that NASA’s exposure in projects like Apollo 18 are beneficial for the agency, even if fictional. “It’s a wonderful way to reach the public through these huge media means like feature films and television shows, and it can inspire people in an interesting way, and it also can instruct people about what space exploration is all about.”
Apollo 18 was released September 2nd, 2011 and stars Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen. The film is directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego.
Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen
Screenplay by: Brian Miller, Cory Goodman
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: September 2nd, 2011
Officially, Apollo 17, launched December 17th, 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. But a year later, in December of 1973, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the US Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it’s the real reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.
NASA scientists find evidence suggesting salty water may flow on the planet’s slopes.
Scientists have found evidence of flowing salt water on steep Martian slopes, which if confirmed would be the first discovery of active liquid water on the red planet, NASA has said.
The data gathered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has given new focus to the hunt for life forms and scientists hope that in the coming years lab experiments and new space missions may shed more light on what they have seen.
“We have found repeated and predictable evidence suggesting water flowing on Mars,” Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration program, told reporters.
The US space agency said the orbiter circling Mars since 2006 had monitored numerous instances of what appeared to be water flows occurring in several locations during the Martian spring and summer.
Time-sequence imagery of the Newton crater in the southern mid-latitude region showed finger-like markings spreading along several steep slopes and then fading again once colder temperatures move in.
“The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
“It’s a mystery now, but I think it’s a solvable mystery with further observations and experiments,” said McEwen, lead author of a study explaining the findings in the journal Science.
No liquid water has been found on Mars, though ice has been discovered at the poles. All life forms need water to survive, so the existence of a water source could point to a haven for primitive life.
“I really think this is a very exciting discovery because it is our first chance to see an environment on Mars that might allow for the expression of an active biological process if there is present day life on Mars,” said Lisa Pratt, professor of geological sciences at Indiana University.
“The next big question is to try to understand the origin and the source of these flows… (and) whether or not they may provide a conduit or a connectivity to a larger deeper brine pool or if in fact these fluids are just isolated patches or pockets.”
McEwen, principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) that captured the images, said the orbiter recorded “thousands” of the flows over the past three years at seven locations. It had identified 20 other possible sites of similar flows, he said.
McEwen cautioned that the water flows remained “circumstantial,” and said scientists “lack that direct confirmation of water” from other instruments studying the planet, but hope it will be confirmed in future missions and lab experiments.
In any case, it does not appear that scientists are seeing anything akin to a gushing river on Mars, but more likely a subterranean movement.
“The flows are not dark because of being wet,” McEwen said. “They are dark for some other reason,” possibly because the briny water runs below the surface and is altering the land’s appearance in a way that makes it look dark.
“By comparison with Earth, it’s hard to imagine they are formed by anything other than fluid seeping down slopes,” said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist Richard Zurek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The question is whether this is happening on Mars and, if so, why just in these particular places.”
Frozen water has been detected in some of Mars’s higher latitudes, and other evidence has suggested that water interacted with the Martian surface throughout the planet’s history.
NASA has placed a renewed focus on Mars, with the 30-year space shuttle program now over and efforts under way to build a spacecraft capable of carrying humans to the red planet by 2030.
The space agency’s unmanned Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is due to explore a mountain inside the Gale Crater on Mars that should reveal whether signs of life ever existed on the red planet.
The largest US rover ever, built at a cost of $2.5 billion dollars, it is set to launch later this year and land in August 2012.
However, the area it will explore is far from the briny water slopes, so Curiosity is not expected to be able to confirm the latest findings.
The Milky Way Galaxy, commonly referred to as just the Milky Way, or sometimes simply as the Galaxy,[a] is the home galaxy of the Solar System, and of Earth. It is agreed that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, with observations suggesting that it is a barred spiral galaxy.
It contains 200-400 billion stars and is estimated to have at least 50 billion planets, 500 million of which could be located in the habitable zone of their parent star. New data suggests there may be up to twice as many free-floating planets in the Milky Way as there are stars. The Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies and is one of around 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
The Solar System is located in the Milky Way galaxy around two thirds of the way out from the center, on the inner edge of the Orion–Cygnus Arm. The Sun orbits around the center of the galaxy in a galactic year—once every 225-250 million Earth years.
The “Milky Way” is a translation of the Latin Via Lactea, in turn translated from the Greek Γαλαξίας (Galaxias), referring to the pale band of light formed by stars in the galactic plane as seen from Earth.
All the stars that the eye can distinguish in the night sky are part of the Milky Way galaxy, but aside from these relatively nearby stars, the galaxy appears as a hazy band of white light arching around the entire celestial sphere. The light originates from stars and other material that lie within the galactic plane. Dark regions within the band, such as the Great Rift and the Coalsack, correspond to areas where light from distant stars is blocked by dark nebulae.
The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness due to the interstellar medium that fills the galactic disk, which prevents us from seeing the bright galactic center. It is thus difficult to see from any urban or suburban location suffering from light pollution. A total integrated magnitude of the whole Milky Way stretching across the night sky has been estimated at −5.0.
The center of the galaxy lies in the direction of Sagittarius, and it is here that the Milky Way looks brightest. From Sagittarius, the hazy band of white light appears to pass westward through the constellations of Scorpius, Ara, Norma, Triangulum Australe, Circinus, Centaurus, Musca, Crux, Carina, Vela, Puppis, Canis Major, Monoceros, Orion and Gemini, Taurus, Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Lacerta, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Sagitta, Aquila, Ophiuchus, Scutum, and back to Sagittarius. The fact that the band divides the night sky into two roughly equal hemispheres indicates that the Solar System lies close to the galactic plane.
The galactic plane is inclined by about 60 degrees to the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth’s orbit). Relative to the celestial equator, it passes as far north as the constellation of Cassiopeia and as far south as the constellation of Crux, indicating the high inclination of Earth’s equatorial plane and the plane of the ecliptic relative to the galactic plane. The north galactic pole is situated at right ascension 12h 49m, declination +27.4° (B1950) near beta Comae Berenices, and the south galactic pole is near alpha Sculptoris.
NASA’s final shuttle astronauts begin their journey into space — following a dramatic last-second delay.
The space shuttle Atlantis soared into the heavens and the history books Friday (July 8, 2011), kicking off the last-ever mission of NASA’s storied shuttle program.
Despite a bleak forecast of thunderstorms and clouds, the shuttle beat the weather in a stunning midday launch, sailing into the sky on one final voyage. The coutndown toward liftoff took a dramatic pause at T minus 31 seconds while ground crews verified that a vent arm at the top of the shuttle was fully retracted. NASA was quickly able to push on toward liftoff.
Atlantis blasted off just after 11:26 a.m. EDT (1526 GMT) from Launch Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, thrilling huge throngs of spectators who had descended on Florida’s Space Coast to see the swan song of an American icon. NASA estimated that between 750,000 and 1 million people turned out to watch history unfold before their eyes.
“Good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. Good luck, god speed, and have a little fun up there,” shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before launch.
“Thanks to you and your team, Mike,” Atlantis’ commander Chris Ferguson replied. “We’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. The crew of Atlantis is ready to launch.”
After 135 launches over 30 years, the space shuttle will never streak into the sky again. [Video: Want to Feel a Shuttle Launch?]
Atlantis and its four-astronaut crew are headed for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. The main goal of the shuttle’s 12-day flight — Atlantis’ 33rd mission after nearly 26 years of flying — is to deliver a year’s worth of supplies and spare parts to the orbiting lab.
But the world’s attention is fixed more on what Atlantis’ last mission means than on what it will accomplish in orbit.
“For an entire generation who grew up with the space shuttle, this is a moment that won’t be appreciated for some time to come,” said space history expert Robert Pearlman, editor of collectSPACE.com and a SPACE.com contributor. “People have taken it for granted; I don’t think its absence is going to be immediately felt.”
A skeleton crew
Commander Chris Ferguson is leading a skeleton crew of four on Atlantis’ STS-135 flight. He’s joined by pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus. Other shuttle missions over the years have typically carried six or seven spaceflyers, but NASA wanted to use every bit of available space to pack extra cargo on this last drop-off mission to the station.
The astronauts will deliver about 9,500 pounds (4,318 kilograms) of cargo to the station. Atlantis is also delivering several different science experiments, one of which — the Robotic Refueling Mission — is an attempt to demonstrate a way to refuel satellites robotically on orbit.
In addition, Atlantis is also carrying two iPhone 4 smartphones loaded with apps to help astronauts perform experiments in space. This represents the first time iPhones have ever gone to space.
Atlantis will chase the station down for a while, finally docking with the $100 billion orbiting lab on Sunday (July 10). The shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth for the final time on July 20.
Until Atlantis rolls to a stop on the runway, the astronauts plan to focus on the tasks they have to perform over the next 12 days, putting off meditations on their mission’s historic significance as much as possible.
“We’re not going to dwell on it too much until after landing,” Ferguson said before launch in a recent NASA video. “Then we’ll get a chance — hopefully following a great, successful mission — to kind of bask in the achievements of the program overall, and really reflect.” [NASA’s Space Shuttle Program In Pictures: A Tribute]
The end of an era
NASA’s space shuttle program was born in January 1972, when President Richard Nixon announced its existence to the nation. Back in those days, the shuttle was billed as a breakthrough vehicle that could enable safe, frequent and relatively cheap access to space.
“The shuttle era really was an effort to do a whole new kind of spaceflight,” Valerie Neal, curator of human spaceflight at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., told SPACE.com. The shuttle program, she added, “held with it the promise of making space just a normal part of human endeavor.”
The first flight took place on April 12, 1981. Since then, the shuttle — the world’s first and only reusable spacecraft — has become NASA’s workhorse vehicle, with the five-shuttle fleet making 135 flights over three decades.
Some of these flights have deployed or repaired important pieces of scientific hardware, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. And many missions since 1998 have helped build the International Space Station, which is now nearly complete.
In addition to these hardware accomplishments, shuttle missions have carried 355 different individuals from 16 different countries into low-Earth orbit, according to NASA officials. So the shuttle delivered on part of its promise, experts say, opening space up to many more people than had been possible previously and helping humanity develop its nascent capabilities in low-Earth orbit.
But the space shuttle didn’t turn out to be cheap or completely safe. NASA once estimated launches could cost as little as $20 million; they’ve turned out to run nearly $1.6 billion each. And two shuttle missions — Challenger’s STS-51L flight in 1986 and Columbia’s STS-107 mission in 2003 — ended in tragedy, killing a total of 14 astronauts.
Ultimately, historians will likely debate the shuttle program’s legacy for years to come.
When Atlantis touches down later this month, its flying days will be over. But the orbiter will still have to be prepped for one final mission: educating the public about spaceflight, and perhaps inspiring youngsters to become astronauts themselves someday.
Like the two other remaining shuttles — Endeavour and Discovery — Atlantis will become a museum showpiece. Atlantis won’t have to go far; it will assume a place of pride in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex here.
Discovery is headed for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, while Endeavour will make the trip west to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
Without the space shuttles, NASA will rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, which is slated to operate until at least 2020. The agency wants private American craft to take over this taxi service eventually, but that probably won’t happen for at least four or five years.
For its part, NASA has begun shifting its focus beyond low-Earth orbit. Last year, President Barack Obama charged the space agency with sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and then on to Mars by the mid-2030s.
As exciting as both of these exploration prospects are, they remain far off, both in space and time. Right now, most thoughts are with Atlantis as it streaks toward the space station, its final mission closing out the life of a spacecraft that came to represent a nation in many ways.
Over the years, the space shuttle became a symbol of America, its ambitious goals and its technological know-how, experts say.
“The shuttle became a very powerful icon,” Roger Launius, space history curator at the National Air and Space Museum, told SPACE.com, “just as serviceable an icon as the astronauts landing on the moon, in terms of national prestige abroad and pride at home.”
A 22-year-old woman on summer break solves a problem that has vexed scientists for decades.
A 22-year-old Australian university student has solved a problem which has puzzled astrophysicists for decades, discovering part of the so-called “missing mass” of the universe during her summer break.
Undergraduate Amelia Fraser-McKelvie made the breakthrough during a holiday internship with a team at Monash University’s School of Physics, locating the mystery material within vast structures called “filaments of galaxies”.
Monash astrophysicist Dr Kevin Pimbblet explained that scientists had previously detected matter that was present in the early history of the universe but that could not now be located.
“There is missing mass, ordinary mass not dark mass… It’s missing to the present day,” Pimbblet told AFP.
“We don’t know where it went. Now we do know where it went because that’s what Amelia found.”
Fraser-McKelvie, an aerospace engineering and science student, was able to confirm after a targeted X-ray search for the mystery mass that it had moved to the “filaments of galaxies”, which stretch across enormous expanses of space.
Pimbblet’s earlier work had suggested the filaments as a possible location for the “missing” matter, thought to be low in density but high in temperature.
Pimbblet said astrophysicists had known about the “missing” mass for the past two decades, but the technology needed to pinpoint its location had only become available in recent years.
He said the discovery could drive the construction of new telescopes designed to specifically study the mass.
Pimbblet admitted the discovery was primarily academic, but he said previous physics research had led to the development of diverse other technologies.
“Whenever I speak to people who have influence, politicians and so on, they sometimes ask me ‘Why should I invest in physics pure research?’. And I sometimes say to them: ‘Do you use a mobile phone? Some of that technology came about by black hole research’.
“The pure research has knock-on effects to the whole society which are sometimes difficult to anticipate.”