Spaceflight Now 23 Mar 2018, 20:46 UTC Ground crews at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California raised a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on its launch pad earlier this month in preparation for liftoff May 5 with NASA’s InSight lander heading to Mars. The two-stage rocket was assembled in three pieces, beginning with the stacking of the Atlas 5’s first stage booster March 3 at Space Launch Complex 3-East. The first stage’s RD-180 main engine will burn a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen to send the InSight spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere during the first four minutes of the flight.
Centauri Dreams 23 Mar 2018, 17:47 UTC The possibility of applying the Space-X Falcon-Heavy booster to human exploration of the inner solar system is discussed. A human-rated Dragon command module and an inflatable habitat module would house and support the 2-4 person crew during a ~1 year interplanetary venture. To minimize effects of galactic cosmic rays, older astronauts should conduct the mission during Solar Maximum. Crew life support is discussed as is application of a ~1-km square solar photon sail. The sail would be applied to rendezvous with the destination Near Earth Object (NEO) and to accelerate the spacecraft on its return to Earth. An on-line NASA trajectory browser has been used to examine optimized trajectories and destinations during 2025-2026. A suitable destination with well established solar-orbital parameters is Asteroid 2009 HC. Because the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) has a greater throw mass than the Falcon-Heavy, the primary propulsion for NEO rendezvous and Earth return would likely be a chemical rocket. The sail would be used in this case as an abort mechanism and a back-up for the primary propulsion system. In either scenario, a single Falcon-Heavy or SLS launch would be adequate.
Sky and Telescope 23 Mar 2018, 14:57 UTC Astronomers working with the INTEGRAL (International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) satellite have recently observed a neutron star going aflame in a burst of X-rays, ignited by material from its companion, a red giant star. The observations, which appear in February 27th Astronomy & Astrophysics, might mark the birth of a rare pair of stars.
Starts With a Bang! 23 Mar 2018, 14:01 UTC In 1915, Albert Einstein published his General theory of Relativity, replacing our old Newtonian worldview with a unified concept of spacetime. On one side of Einstein’s equations, the matter and energy in the Universe told spacetime how to curve; on the other side, the curved fabric of spacetime told matter and energy how to move. The complicated nature of these equations ensured that exact solutions would be hard to find, as Einstein himself only ever found two: one for completely empty space and one for a single mass in the weak-field limit. The next year, Karl Schwarzschild found the first interesting solution, for a point mass over all of space. We now recognize this as the solution for a black hole, one of the few exact solutions known even today. While in Schwarzschild’s formulation, black holes were static objects, Hawking was the first to prove that it isn’t so. Black holes radiate over time, and as such, aren’t even completely black.
ESO Announcements 23 Mar 2018, 14:00 UTC The French optics company Safran Reosc has completed the first of six shells that will comprise the M4 deformable mirrorsystem, which forms a fundamental part of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). When complete, the adaptive M4 mirror will be 2.4 metres in diameter but only 1.95 millimetres thick. This very thin mirror is one of the five main mirrors of the ELT’s optical system, with the main segmented mirror being 39 metres in diameter. Safran Reosc are manufacturing all six of the deformable shell mirrors that comprise the M4 mirror. Together, these 60-degree petal sections form the circular segmented M4 mirror. They will be mounted and supported in the adaptive mirror unit. Meanwhile, the Italian consortium AdOptica is manufacturing the complex adaptive support system needed for the M4.
Drew Ex Machina 23 Mar 2018, 13:44 UTC Without a doubt, NASA’s Kepler mission has been the most prolific discoverer of extrasolar planets to date. It has done this by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars caused by the transits of orbiting exoplanets. Even after its primary mission ended in May 2013 when the failure of a second reaction wheel after four years in space prevented Kepler from pointing at its target area straddling the border of the constellations Lyra and Cygnus, project engineers and scientists were able to formulate an alternate extended mission to continue hunting for exoplanets. Since the start of this extended mission called “K2” in March 2014, the spacecraft has been observing a sequence of star fields along the ecliptic for stretches of about 80 days at a time before moving on to the next star field. This observation strategy was possible using the remaining pair of reaction wheels by balancing the slight pressure of sunlight reflecting off of the spacecraft to maintain an accurate fix during the observation runs (see “The First Year of Kepler’s K2 Mission”).
ESO Blog 23 Mar 2018, 11:00 UTC Our fragile blue planet circles a star that is just one of hundreds of billions in our galaxy — which itself is just one stellar neighbourhood in a vast Universe of at least a hundred billion more. Astronomers, science fiction writers and the public alike have all long wondered: Are we alone in the cosmos? ESO recently joined the search for habitable worlds around other stars in collaboration with the Breakthrough Initiatives, a large-scale science programme to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We chatted to Markus Kasper, ESO exoplanet expert, to learn more.
ESO Announcements 23 Mar 2018, 10:00 UTC The ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre offers unique venue alternatives for event organisers in Munich. Our events brochure provides information about the spaces for hire and the available services. The centre can cater for events ranging from conferences, meetings, and workshops to cocktail parties and other evening events. The centre has two highlights in terms of venue alternatives. The 360-degree planetarium offers an immersive and spectacular environment. The Void is a spherical room displaying the Milky Way Galaxy on its walls, and its star roof can light up with the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
Bad Astronomy 23 Mar 2018, 01:46 UTC Our galaxy is hairy. Well, that's not quite true. It's more filamentary. Like, loaded with strands, filaments, of gas and dust running through it. These can be light years long, though very narrow. They are thought to form as streams of material in a rotating galaxy converge and collide; it's also possible the turbulence created when stars explode helps this process along.