The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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Terrorist attack witnessed by astronauts, satellites
The astronauts aboard the international space station saw the rising smoke and dust clouds from the destroyed World Trade Center towers, the Ikonos, Terra, GOES-8 and SPOT satellites have delivered stunning images of the devastation and the large dust plume, and several NASA centers were closed for 2 days and Air Force bases put on high alert: Ikonos gallery [SN, earlier, again, SR], an ISS & Terra gallery [SR, again, SN], a Landsat 7 image, a GOES-8 image (includes hurricane Erin), and a SPOT image [SN] (a 1994 view). CNN on the ISS & Terra and Ikonos views, SC on the ISS and Ikonos, BBC on Ikonos ( earlier) and AP and SPIEGEL on all space views. What the events could mean for NASA's budget: SC. A statement by Dan Goldin: text, SC, CNN. NASA HQ reopens: ST. Centers reopen: SC. High alert at launch sites: AN. Satellites' role in tracking down terrorists questioned: SC, BBC, RP, NZ. ISS crews notes air traffic shutdown: SC. Asteroids to be named for victims: SC. What it all means for science: NSU. The first stories: SN and SC (other and another story). Eyewitness reports by SC editors and more articles.
Update # 228 of September 23, 2001, at 23:45 UTC
Deep Space One gets Borrelly nucleus pictures! / Taurus launch fails / The first GOES X-ray images of the Sun / Titania occultation observed / 10 more Chandra discoveries / Ariane mystery continues / A gravitational lens with 6 images

Deep Space One beats the odds, shoots comet nucleus pictures!

They will be released only in a few days, but it is already clear that the Deep Space Once spacecraft has succeeded, against all odds, to capture up to 32 images of the nucleus of comet Borrelly when it sped by late on Saturday, Sep. 22. Researchers already got a sneak peak of about 30 images that evening, while full resolution versions should have been downloaded from the spacecraft to Earth overnight and into Sunday. "These are really remarkable," quotes JPL comet expert Don Yeomans: "As expected, there were lots of surprises."

According to his remarks to, "some 30 ecstatic mission managers at JPL watched the images download from a craft that had succeeded in doing something it wasn't designed to do, and pulling it off after a long and battering trip that is near its end. 'There was sustained applause,' Yeomans said." The flyby took place, as planned, at a distance of 2000 km, with a relative speed of 16.5 km/s. Not one hit by a dust particle was evident, and the spacecraft emerged from Borrelly's coma unharmed; data not only from the camera but also from other instruments can thus be downloaded.

The spacecraft was able to use all four of its instruments at Borrelly: Data will be returned over the next few days as the spacecraft sends to Earth black-and-white pictures, infrared spectrometer measurements, ion and electron data, and measurements of the magnetic field and plasma. Several hours before the encounter, the ion and electron monitors had begun observing the comet's environment. The action increased about an hour and a half before the closest approach, when for two minutes the infrared spectrometer collected data that will help understand the overall composition of the surface of the comet's nucleus.

Deep Space 1 then began taking its black-and-white images of the nucleus 32 minutes before the spacecraft's closest pass to the comet, and the best picture of comet Borrelly was taken just a few minutes before closest approach, as the team had planned. Two minutes before the spacecraft whizzed by the comet, its camera was turned away so that the ion and electron monitors could make a careful examination of the comet's inner coma, the cloud of dust and gas that envelops the comet. Signals confirming the successful encounter were received on Earth at 22:43 UTC, and data containing the first clues to the composition of the comet came a few hours later.

JPL Press Release and coverage of the success: SC, AP, BBC, SD, ST.
Homepage and space location of the spacecraft, plus an APOD.
Advance announcements: JPL Release, Science@NASA, and the Sep. 9 Mission Log.
Lots of (mostly pessimistic) advance articles by Wired, SD, New Sci., Astronomy, NYT, AN, BBC ( earlier), CSM, FT, Discovery, SC (several stories!), SPIEGEL, NZ. Earlier: SC.
Target comet Borrelly was at 10th magnitude in late August: IAUC.

20 years ago: The first comet that fell into the Sun

was discovered on 2 years old satellite images: IAUCs # 3640 and 3647, the comet, the satellite, all Solwind & SMM comets and Science@NASA on sungrazers in general. One of latest to fall into the Sun was SOHO-347.
The Wilson Awards 2001 for amateur comet discoveries: CfA Release. Comet Petriew pairs with Jupiter: Astronomy.

Taurus launch fails, 2 satellites lost; Athena launch delayed

A Taurus rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB on Sep. 21 veered of course and fell into the Indian Ocean - taking with it a NASA ozone monitoring satellite, a commercial Earth photography satellite and also some cremated human remains. Everything had looked normal until about 85 sec. into the flight: Powerful tracking cameras then showed the Taurus suddenly veer to the left and then to the right. The gyrations continued for several seconds before the rocket was able to right itself and continue with the 14-minute flight.

But the energy and momentum lost while the rocket was gyrating meant the vehicle was unable to achieve the proper altitude and velocity to reach a safe orbit around Earth. The two satellites plunged back into the atmosphere where they were destroyed. Meanwhile the first space launch from Kodiak island off Alaska has been postponed to Sep. 24; bad weather had scrubbed a launch attempt on Sep. 21 and a troublesome tracking station delayed an attempt on the 22nd. Onboard the Athena 1 rocket are four small satellites.

The Taurus failure: Orbital Press Release and coverage by SN, AN, SR, FT, AP, SC. Earlier: Astronomy and the old Status page.
The Athena preparations: Fact Sheet, Starshine 3 homepage, KSC Release (earlier), Status, launch journal. Earlier: SC, ST, FT, SN, SR.

No Ariane role in Toulouse explosion - it was a neighboring chemical plant that blew up: CNN.

GOES-12 sends first X-ray images of the Sun!

NOAA's Space Environment Center (SEC) has announced that the GOES-12 Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) is sending X-ray images of the Sun since September 7th, 2001 after successfully concluding the first phase of post-launch testing - a culmination of more than twenty years of effort. The instrument is a broadband imager operating in the 0.6-6.0 nm bandpass. It has a full width at half maximum (FWHM) of ~10 arcsec sampled with 5 arcsec pixels in a 512x512 array. When operational, it will provide full-disk solar images at a 1-minute cadence around the clock, except for brief periods during orbital eclipse seasons.

Available combinations of exposures and filters allow the entire dynamic range of solar x-ray features to be covered, from coronal holes to X-class flares. In addition, using ratio images from different filters allows temperature and emission measure estimates to be made. SXI testing is proceeding and images are being put on the Web in near real time, i.e., within a minute or so of being taken. Some of the testing, of course, produces rather indecipherable images. However, long periods of relatively 'normal' imaging can be expected. Currently, only 'browse' images in PNG format are available for downloading.

Africa or Australia? Where to head for the next total eclipse

of the Sun has become - somewhat - clearer with the publication of a detailled climatological study that will become part of the NASA Eclipse Circular for the Dec. 4, 2002, eclipse. For Africa it says that sites between Beitbridge in Zimbabwe and Massingir in Mozambique have the best viewing prospects: "The single best location, based on the available data, seems to lie at Beitbridge, a community of 6000 on the north bank of the Limpopo River. Because Beitbridge marks the main border crossing between Zimbabwe and South Africa and is very close to where the center line crosses, viewing sites can be selected in either country. The relatively high sun angle and convective nature of the cloudiness, which will be at a minimum for a morning eclipse, suggest a probability of success around 60 percent."

Later in Australia, "the best weather prospects for viewing the eclipse will be found inland. Cloud cover is at its lowest from the vicinity of Woomera eastward to the end of the track. The higher solar elevation on the coast is not likely to compensate for the greater amount of cloud, leaving the adventurer with a hot and dusty, but ultimately sunnier inland location for best circumstances. Temperatures could be very high and suitable precautions should be taken to protect from heat stroke. Save for the fact that the eclipse occurs at sunset, Australia would be an easy choice over Africa if weather were the only factor to be considered when selecting a viewing site" - but "all in all, the prospects for a successful horizon eclipse in Australia likely exceed the best chances in Africa by [only!] about five to eight percent."

SXI's first images: an SEC announcement and the the images themselves!
The eclipse of 2002: Espenak page.

Big sunspot regions crossed the disk, made flares

Activity region 9591 has caused some aurorae: Gallery. The group on Aug. 28, 24-27 and and 26. Meanwhile there are new big ones, 9601 and 9608: pictures from Sep. 10, 7, 2 and a movie.

Cluster quartet take a trip down Earth's tail

Since the end of August, ESA's four Cluster spacecraft have been flying along the middle of the Earth's magnetotail, carrying out the most in-depth exploration of this region ever undertaken: ESA Science News. Cluster sees waves in the magnetopause: ESA Science News.
Ulysses is over the Sun's N Pole again: JPL Release, SC.
Yohkoh is 10 years in orbit: GSFC Release. Also SC on solar activity in general.

Novae Sagittarii 2001 # 2 and 3

have been discovered in rapid sequence - both visually (!) and by the same amateur: AAVSO Alert (earlier), IAUC # 7708, 7706 and 7692.

Stellar occultation by Uranus moon Titania observed from many sites

They were in Northern South America, the Caribbean, on the Iberian peninsula, the British Isles and in France - and in many cases the skies were clear when Uranus' moon Titania moved in front of a moderately bright star early on September 8. The big observing campaign had been arranged because it would provide a crucial test of whether Titania has an atmosphere: It would have made the disappearance and reappearance of the star more gradual. At first glance the light curves measured everywhere do not show such an effect: If Titania has an atmosphere at all, its pressure at surface level cannot exceed one microbar.
Collected observing reports, a Call for observations and an advance report on the science.

Japanese Venus Probe Mission approved

The main purpose is to elucidate the mystery of the Venusian atmospheric super rotation by photography: ISAS Press Release [SR].

Ten more discoveries by the Chandra X-ray satellite

have been reported in early September, most of them at a conference to celebrate two years of scientific observations:
  • An X-ray flare from Sgr A*, the fat, compact object at the center of the Galaxy (usually interpreted as a 2.6 million solar mass black hole) which otherwise is pretty dim in X-rays (see Update # 167 story 2) is of great importance for modelling its physics - was matter sucked into Sgr A* or was it rather an event in its jet? Nature abstract, Chandra Press Release, Science@NASA, NSU, a different view from Bonn and coverage by New Scientist, NYT, LA Times, BBC, CNN, FT, SC, ST, APOD, SPIEGEL, NZ, WELT, DPA, RP, MW.

  • Galaxy clusters consist of 87% Dark Matter, a survey of 5 of the largest specimen shows - which also confirms that the total mass of the Universe is approx. 30% of critical: Chandra Press Release.
  • The Dark Matter is not self-interacting, other Chandra data show - this excludes some candidate particles: Chandra Release, NYT, SC.

  • Young stars in the Orion Nebula could solve a mystery of the young solar system, because they flare much more frequently than the Sun does today - this could explain isotopic anomalies in ancient meteorites: Chandra Press Release, NYT, SC.
  • Hot stellar winds in the Rosette Nebula has been mapped by Chandra: Chandra and Penn State Press Releases.

  • How a pulsar's strong magnetic field shapes its environment, can be seen around B1509-58: Chandra Press Release, RP.
  • An unequal brother of the Crab pulsar - the X-ray power of 3C58 and its surrounding nebula are 20,000 and 1000 times weaker than the Crab pulsar and its surrounding nebula respectively: Chandra Press Release.
  • A neutron star that is "too cold" after being hit with matter from a companion for 12 years: MIT Press Release, CNN, NZ, SPIEGEL.

  • A confusing X-ray binary is actually 2 pairs of a neutron star with a companion: paper by White & Angelini, GSFC and Chandra Press Releases.
  • An X-ray flare from and mysterious pulsations in Nova Aquilae 1999 have been observed 8 months after its outburst: Chandra Press Release.
One the occasion of the anniversary NASA has also announced that the mission will last 10 years instead of five - and the Chandra scientists are already working on an extension to 15 years: MSFC Release and coverage by SC and SN.

An X-ray binary that escaped from a globular cluster?

The X-ray nova XTE J1118+480 is on an excentric orbit that resembles those of some globular clusters - and it's much more likely that the object was ejected from one than that it got an outstanding kick during a regular birth event in the galactic disk: STScI Release, APOD, BBC, SC, WELT, NZ, RP.
What would happen if two black holes collided? Detailled simulation would help gravitational wave detectors identify the signature: MPG Release. One of those will be LIGO: New Scientist.

A massive X-ray binary with an extremely elongated orbit

LS 5039 has an orbit so elongated that the twosome appears to have barely survived the disruptive effects of the supernova that transformed them into a fountain of X-ray energy: NOAO Press Release, coverage by NZ.

New distance record for radio detection of neutral hydrogen

It's in one - and only one - galaxy in the cluster Abell 2218 at z=0.18 - apparently this galaxy entered the cluster only recently while all others have lost their gas already: UniSci, Astronomy. Abell 2218 as seen by Hubble: old picture. And what Chandra sees: paper by Machacek & al.

Ariane 5 failure not fully understood

Investigators are still having a hard time figuring out how a "combustion instability" could develop in the Aestus engine of the upper stage of the last Ariane 5 (see last Update small items), a member of the inquiry board has told the Cosmic Mirror. The problem occured immediately after the engine was switched on, when the two hypergolic fuel components made contact for the first time - but during all the previous launches, they had incinerated exactly as designed, according to a thorough analysis of all the telemetry.

Earlier ground tests of the Aestus had apparently hinted vaguely at a potential problem, but an end-to-end test was never possible: There was no way to simulate the precise physical conditions at high altitude when the fuel components are brought into contact, even in a special test chamber at the Lampoldshausen facility. There a modified Aestus will is now undergoing lengthly re-qualification tests (it's mainly the software that has been changed) - but the real proof that the engine is completely safe now will only be in hand after a number of flawless launches.

Arianespace Release.

First H2-A rocket flies

The inaugural flight of Japan's new rocket was a success on Aug. 29, and a small laser-reflector test satellite was deployed in the process: NASDA Release, CNN, AN, AFP (earlier), ST, Reuters, AP, BBC ( other story), RP (with many pictures), WELT, Liftoff page, Status. More previews: CNN, SD.

The first gravitational lens with 6 images

has been detected with both the HST in the optical and the VLBA in the radio: It is the first gravitational lens with more than four images of the background object that is produced by a small group of galaxies rather than a large cluster of galaxies. Such systems are expected to be extremely rare, so this discovery is being hailed as an important stepping stone. Because it is an intermediate case between gravitational lenses produced by single galaxies and lenses produced by large clusters of galaxies, it promises insights one cannot get from other types of lenses.

The gravitational lens, called CLASS B1359+154, consists of a galaxy more than 11 billion light-years away in the constellation Bootes, with a trio of galaxies more than 7 billion light-years away along the same line of sight. The more-distant galaxy shows signs that it contains a massive black hole at its core and also has regions in which new stars are forming. The gravitational effect of the intervening galaxies has caused the light and radio waves from the single, more-distant galaxy to be "bent" to form six images as seen from Earth. Four of these images appear outside the triangle formed by the three intermediate galaxies and two appear inside that triangle.

NRAO Press Release and coverage by Astronomy, BBC, SPIEGEL, NZ.

Lots of detail in M 31

has been resolved with the Subaru telescope: Press Release.
An HST image of a starburst galaxy shows star clusters of different ages in the galaxy MGC 3310: STScI Release, SC, BBC.
Cold dust in the Eagle nebula M 16 has been imaged with the ISO satellite at specific wavelengths: ESA Science News.

ISS Update

A barrel-shaped Russian docking compartment that will double as an airlock was launched toward the ISS on Sep. 15 and arrived on Sep. 17, concluding the final outpost construction mission of 2001. Status # 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, Energia Press Releases of Sep. 15 and Aug. 28, Science@NASA of Sep. 21, 7 and 4.
Status Center and coverage of Sep. 17: New Sci., SC (other story). Sep. 15: CNN, HC, AFP, ST, SN. Sep. 14: AN. Sep. 13: SC. Sep. 10: AW&ST, SR. Sep. 7: CNN, AD, OS, FT, AP. Sep. 6: CNN, SC. Sep. 3: Russian Gazette. Sep. 1: CNN.
Aug. 31: BBC, SC, AFP (other story), ST, CNN. Aug. 30: SC (other story), CNN, SPIEGEL. Aug. 29: AFP.
Submillimetron, a submillimeter telescope on a modified Progress, to be docked now & then to the Russian segment of the ISS after 2004-5: paper by Gromov & al.
Claims about the imminent construction of a 'space hotel' are premature - only "an agreement that opens the way for a feasibility study" has been signed so far between Energia and MirCorp, and there are neither investors nor clients: SD, AFP. Project has backers in Russia: AFP. Earlier: MirCorp Press Release [SR], New Sci., SC, HC, BBC, AN, AFP, ST, SN, SD, WELT, RP, NZ.

New interferometry milestone for CHARA

By combining the light from two telescopes set 330 meters apart, the CHARA array has become the world's largest optical interferometer: Homepage, SC. Earlier: SPIEGEL.

Palomar Observatory receives high-speed network connectivity via HPWREN - near-Earth asteroid and supernova researchers reap benefits: HPWREN Press Release.

Cameras that keep the full sky in view, to form a global network of CONCAMS: APOD.

First images from a new "Millimeter Camera" on a radio telescope on La Silla - SIMBA is the first imaging millimeter instrument in the Southern hemisphere: ESO Press Release.

Panel rejects NASA role in managing ground-based astronomy

An idea from the White House to merge the space- and groundbased American astronomy programs has been rejected by a high-ranking panel: its report and coverage by NYT, ST, AIP. Meet Ed Weiler, NASA's most influential scientist: ZEIT (in German).

Julian Scheer, NASA Public Affairs chief during Moon Race, dead at 75 - Scheer is credited with establishing a new level of openness in NASA's dealings with the press: SC.

More evidence for an impact at Permian's end

A remarkable sulfur and strontium isotope excursion at the end of the Permian, along with other signatures, points to a major impact: GSO Press Release, NSU, coverage by SciAm, RP.

How microbarometers "hear" bolides - the Scripps array: Press Release, BBC. Hunt is on for the source of fireball visible from Idaho to New Mexico on Aug. 17: Denver Post ( earlier), Denver Channel, AP, SC, NYT.

Yet another Leonids revision - Jenniskens (see last Update) is moving into the direction of the 'classic' models: Predictions. An attempt of a meta-analysis: S&T Press Release.

Russian rocket burns up in atmosphere off the U.S. East Coast, creating a spectacular light show: AP.

Asteroid Kalliope has a moon

Two teams of astronomers independently discovered a small body orbiting orbiting (22) Kalliope, a main-belt asteroid named after the Greek muse of epic poetry: Astronomy. NEAR science results reviewed by SD.

Earth's "light curve" a clue for life?

The brightness of Earth as seen as a point of light from great distance shows variations of up to 150 percent over the course of a day, with characteristic signatures for different terrestrial features such as deserts, forests and oceans - that might be a way to detect promising conditions on exoplanets: paper by Ford & al., Princeton Release [EA], New Sci., CNN, SC, NZ.

More vegetation in the Northern hemisphere - as detected by satellites over the past 20 years - could have something to do with global warming: Special Page, GSFC Press Release, Science@NASA.

The Sun was a hot young star

When the sun was just 1 million years old it was brighter than it is today - and an elaborate new computer simulation indicates that the young sun was even hotter and brighter than thought: inScight, NZ.

The composition of the Moon as observed by Clementine & Lunar Prospector yields further evidence for the Giant Impact scenario: SC.

"Weird chemistry" on Jupiter's moons - lab studies provide new insight into the unique chemical reactions that take place on extremely cold icy surfaces under high vacuum, driven by high-energy electrons and ions rather than normal thermal processes: Georgia Tech Release, WELT.

Mars Express testing begins

The structural model of the spacecraft - i.e. the flight structure with dummy payloads - has arrived at Intespace, Toulouse: ESA Release.

NASA's Mars 2007 landing slides to 2009, for budgetary reasons: SD. Earlier: SR. The status of Mars Odyssey is fine, and a star tracker problem is overcome: JPL, New Sci.

More erroneous Mars life speculations, this time from Hungary and based on MGS images: USGS statement, ST. Earlier: CNN, AFP, Reuters. The other recents claims based on Viking data: SC.

New pictures of the south polar cap on Mars and a global view of the dust storm occurring there have been released from the MGS: SPC, storm [SN] pictures, Astronomy, SC. Lots of previous MGS imaging results are discussed in a large Preprint (announced here).

Name the SIRTF!

NASA has launched yet another competition, this time to name the upcoming IR observatory: Contest Page, JPL Release, SC.

Hubble's Faint Object Spectrograph re-calibrated - the "new repository of enhanced observations will seem like receiving data from an entirely new instrument": ESA HST Release.

The HST back-up mirror is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC: NASA Release.

INTEGRAL gets shaken

The gamma observatory is now undergoing a series of environmental tests at the European Space Agency's testing facility (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands: ESA Science News.

New antenna for Rosetta is taking shape in Australia - the New Norcia ground station, which should be finally ready for handover to ESA in July 2002: ESA Science News.

Christmas Island Launch Center gains momentum - investors are gaining confidence in the Asia Pacific Space Center (APSC) on Australia's Christmas Island: Reuters.

Lost tape of Apollo 11 conversations surfaces

Now we know what went on at ground control during the critical minutes of the lunar landing: BBC, SPIEGEL.

Debate over how the Egyptian pyramids were oriented, probably involving some astronomical means (see Update # 211 small items for the original idea): NYT.

Indian minister promises clean astronomy without astrological influences: The Hindu.

The USAF will not rescue X-33, X-34 and X-37

as the Air Force sees no military needs in what could be learned from these space plane demonstrators - the X-33 and -34 are thus practically dead, and the future of the X-37 is uncertain: Press Release and coverage by AN, SC, OS, FT.
  • ESO retracts press release about stellar dust disk - there is none around Iota Hor: ESO Press Release, SC.
  • IRS-1B completes 10 years of remote sensing with two cameras: ISRO Press Release.
  • A Libyan dust storm spreading over the Mediterranean, as seen from SeaWiFs. And Nile flooding in Sudan by MISR.
  • TRMM's orbit has been raised, to prolong the satellite's life and continue to provide meteorologists and climatologists data to forecast and better understand global climate change: GSFC Release.
  • Scientists call for online library - thousands of scientists around the world will soon be boycotting academic journals that refuse to make their contents freely available on the web soon after publication: Public Library of Science, BBC ( earlier), Nano.
  • SETI@home gets only false hits from interference: SC, NZ.
  • McDonalds @ NASM raises eyebrows - a public interest group that has criticized the Smithsonian for recent partnerships with businesses is already worried: CNN.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
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