The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

Total eclipse seen well from parts of Africa, most of Oz
Parts of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as most of Australia experienced fine weather during the short total eclipse of the Sun on December 4: reports & pictures by Kramer & al., Graner and EclTimer (lucky in Zim), Weltevrede (lucky in Botswana), Kern [also as an APOD], Fischer, Dittie, Karrer, Brinkmann, the Poitevins, "SpaceCowboy", Edelmeier, Delcourte and Yen [report] (lucky in South Africa), Hers and Rodriguez (semi-lucky in South Africa), Lilander, ProfJohn, Birkner, Heinsius and "Shelios" (unlucky in South Africa), Maley (semi-lucky in Mozambique), Foley and Godard (unlucky on the Indian Ocean) and Farrell, Bruenjes, Staiger [cool extreme wide angle view], Pasachoff [related GSFC release], Harris [website], Marlot, White, Dighaye, Makepeace, Ireland, Voss, Malicki, Low, Sims, Schmidtmann, Levens, Schneider, Danielsen, Jacquot and Australia Severe Weather (successful in Oz), plus more stories, picture collections by CSIRO, SpaceWeather, HoleInTheSky and SPIEGEL and link collections by Eclipse-Reisen and SENL. From space Africa at 6 UTC [the IR view], Australia at 9 UTC, a weather sat animation [direct link], the view from the ISS (also a BBC story and a preview from Science@NASA), and a UV animation from the IMAGE satellite. Coverage by S&T, ABC (radio), Natal Witness, News24, IOL, The Age, Canberra Times, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, SMH, Guardian, WP, AP, Reuters, CNN, BBC, MSNBC, AllAfrica, VOA, AFP (in German) and NZ, links to many more articles and selected previews by AllAfrica, VOA, Nat'l Geogr., SMH, SC, Globe&Mail, BBC and Kapstadt News. Also a most bizarre "health warning" from Oz, the New Sci. and CNN on Zim archaeoastronomy speculations, the BBC on the eclipse wind and the JAS on hunting the new moon on E day.
Update # 246 of Saturday, December 21, 2002
(eclipse and Leonids reports link lists updated continuously until Jan. 23, 2003)
Leonids roar twice, again / Neutrino insights / First Integral results presented / Proton, Ariane launch disasters shake industry / First astrometric exoplanet mass determination

New Leonids analysis puts peak ZHRs at 2500 and 2900

With over 57'000 individual meteors logged by 207 observers now entered into the data base of the International Meteor Organization, the results for the final two Leonid storms have changed a bit: While the peak times are the same (4:10 UTC and 10:47 UTC on Nov. 19, now ±1 min.), the peak ZHR values have changed to 2510±60 and 2900±200, respectively. Only observations under the best conditions were used for this analysis (high radiant and limiting magnitude at least 5m) - and still the outcome for the 2nd peak is much less certain than for the first one. The reason: There were far fewer systematic observations reported from the U.S. than from Europe. (Arlt & al., WGN 30 [Dec. 2002] 205-12)

Posted on Nov. 22

Two final Leonid storms both reach about 2500 meteors per hour

None of the five predictions in the last issue had it all right, but Vaubaillon & Colas got the best timing while - unfortunately for the visual observers - Langbroek 'won' with respect to the meteor rates. Both predicted peaks materialized, both were some 10 minutes late, and both reached a zenithal hourly rate of only about 2500 (which was further diminished by the light from the almost full Moon). Nonetheless the Leonids did it again, even four years after the parent comet had passed by.

And while the two storms of 2002 rank only as the 3rd and 4th strongest of the five that pleased us in 1999, 2001 and 2002, there were again all the features we've come to expect from the Leonids: occasional earthgrazing meteors while the radiant rose, bright meteors all over the sky (though less so during the 2nd peak) and occasional fireballs with persistent trains (though not nearly as many as in 2001, let alone 1998). The peaks were very sharp, however, with full width half maximum times of only about 45 minutes each (in this respect, by the way, Jenniskens 'won').

This unusually spiky ZHR profile threw more than one observer into confusion as there wasn't the steady rise over several hours towards the peaks - when the radiant rose at the geometrically optimal sites in Europe and America, the rates were surprisingly low, only to take off after several hours. In Europe there was a pleasing encore, though, after the main peak from the 7-rev. trail as apparently two other, lesser dust trails kept the meteor rate from falling all the way back until sunrise. (Based on the IMO Shower Circular of Nov. 22, numerous reports and the webmaster's own impressions on Tenerife)

Analysis: IMO News (with hard numbers and a ZHR plot), Urania (Belgium). Radar data: Ondrejov.
Observing reports and pictures by MBK (France), Tomescu (Romania), Langbroek (Valle de Rodalquilar, Spain), Gährken (Calar Alto, Spain), Casado (Cape Creus, Spain), Rieth (France), Lüthen and Pfleger (Tenerife, Canaries), Boschat (Nova Scotia, CA), Yen (California, USA), Martin (Florida, USA), Sapp (Nevada, USA), YK Chia (Singapore) and collections by SC, SpaceWeather and CarlKop.
Coverage by S&T (earlier), NYT, CNN, CBS, BBC, AFP, SF Gate, Balt. Sun, SkyNews, SC (earlier), NZ, RP, WDR.
More previews from Science@NASA on Nov. 18 and 16, NYT, FT, Ast., SC, BBC, New Sci., CNN, SC Sentinel, SFGate, Ast., S&T, NewsMiner, AnaNova, Balt. Sun, Welt, RP.

New comet may become interesting in January

A comet recently discovered by Japanese amateur astronomers can be spotted with small telescopes, and in January it may reach zero mag. - but behind the Sun: Ephemeris, IAUC, links and stories by S&T and SC.
Crater found on Moon that could have been formed in 1953 when an amateur astronomer saw a bright flash at that location: SC, BBC, NZ. It's old news: a 2001 abstract.

Solar neutrino problem now really, really solved

A clever Japanese semi-controlled neutrino experiment has proven once again that neutrinos oscillate and thus further confirmed that this physical phenomenon beyond the standard model of particle physics is the reason why all neutrino detectors in the past have seen fewer neutrinos from the Sun than theory predicts. For some physicists this »neutrino problem« is gone for good only with the new experiment. The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory had already for the first time shown that the missing neutrinos in all likelyhood had just oscillated into other flavors (this was just named the 2nd-most important Breakthrough of the Year; see Updates # 225 story 2 and 237 small items for past coverage) - and now KamLAND has done the same with artificial neutrinos (or rather anti-neutrinos, which doesn't make a difference).

The detector is measuring the flux of anti-electron neutrinos from Japan's and South Korea's commercial nuclear power plants: From their energy production a theoretical flux can be calculated that KamLAND should see if there were no oscillations - and the measured number of events in the first 145 days, 54, falls far short of the expected 87. But it fits the predictions if oscillations are assumed. And when combined with the solar neutrino data from Sudbury and elsewhere the parameter space for the neutrino oscillations still allowed shrinks dramatically. Not only is the solar neutrino problem solved beyond any doubt now, but key properties of the neutrino - namely the mass difference between the flavors and the "mixing angle" - are now also much better known than ever before.

Papers by Eguchi & al., Barger & Marfatia and Bahcall & al., Press Releases by LSU, LLNL and Caltech, Homepages at Stanford and Caltech and coverage by NYT, NZ.

High-res observations of the CMBR power spectrum with ACBAR

The first measurements of anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background have been reported with ACBAR on Viper: a paper by Kuo & al. and an NSF PR [Berkeley CN, SR], BBC, Post-Gaz., SF Gate.
A new analysis of the BOOMERANG measurements of 1998 doesn't change much: a paper by Ruhl & al. The latest meta-analysis by Wang & al. (special page). CMBR polarization published: UPI, SciAm.

Integral's "First Light" observations

ESA's gamma-ray satellite, Integral, is fully operational, and its first images of the high-energy Universe have now been presented. As a first test, Integral had observed the Cygnus region of the sky, looking particularly at the enigmatic object, Cygnus X-1. Since the 1960s, we know this object has been a constant generator of high-energy radiation. Most scientists believe that Cygnus X-1 is the site of a black hole, containing around five times the mass of our Sun and devouring a nearby star. Observing Cygnus X-1 - which is 'only' 10,000 light years from us - is a very important step to understand black holes. During the initial investigations, scientists also had a nice surprise when Integral captured its first gamma-ray burst. These extraordinary celestial explosions are unpredictable and occur from random directions about twice a day.
ESA Science News (earlier) and coverage by New Sci., BBC, S&T.

RAPTOR catches an early GRB afterglow

Only for the 2nd time (see Update # 120 for the other case) has a small, automated telescope on the ground caught the early optical afterglow of a gamma-ray burst: APOD.

Proton, Ariane 5 failures shake launch industry

First the Block DM upper stage of a Russian Proton rocket failed on Nov. 26, stranding an Astra communications satellite in a useless orbit (it has since been deorbited) - and then on Dec. 11 the maiden flight of the first "improved" Ariane 5 ended in disaster even earlier when the first stage malfunctioned; two more expensive satellites were lost. Meanwhile Arianespace has decided - in cooperation with ESA and CNES - to create an inquiry board with the following duties:
  • To establish the causes of the anomaly observed during Flight 157 - Ariane 5 ECA (the "10-ton" Ariane 5),
  • To determine the eventual consequences of the anomaly on operations of basic Ariane 5 versions, in particular on preparations for the upcoming launch with the Rosetta deep space probe, and
  • To recommend measures to be taken to correct the problems observed.
The inquiry board will submit its final report to Arianespace on Monday, January 6, 2003, and, as is the practice in such situations, Arianespace and its partners will abstain from providing any information on this subject until the inquiry board submits its final report. Nonetheless there are already indications that the problem could be specific to the Ariane 5 ECA and in particular its new Vulcain 2 first stage engine: If that is confirmed by the inquiry board, the time-critical launch of Rosetta could probably go ahead in mid-January. In any case the Ariane 5 for the comet mission was rolled out on Dec. 19, to be ready for a possible launch as early as Jan. 12.
Ariane failure: Arianespace Press Releases of Dec. 19, 15 and and 12, ESA and Eutelsat Press Releases and coverage by AW&ST, SN (earlier), BBC (other and another story and more), AFP (earlier, still earlier and much earlier), Guardian, ST (earlier, still earlier and much earlier), New Sci., CNN, DW, Dsc., IOL, NZ (früher), RP.

Proton failure: an SES Press Release (earlier, still earlier), ILS and SeaLaunch Press Releases and coverage by AFP (earlier, still earlier), BBC, New Sci., SC, ST (earlier, still earlier), NZ.

Delta IV succeeds in maiden flight

On Nov. 20, the first Delta IV successfully delivered a satellite for Eutelsat: Boeing Release [SR, SD], SN, FT, New Sci., ST (earlier), SC (earlier).

The first astrometric mass determination of an exoplanet

has been achieved with the Fine Guidance Sensors of the Hubble Space Telescope: The Hubble results place the planet at 1.9±0.5 times the mass of Jupiter. Previous measurements based solely on radial velocities could only give a lower limit of 2 Jupiter masses - but it could also have been as many as 100, had the orbit been in the plane of the sky. The Fine Guidance Sensors (FGSs), which are also used to point and stabilize the free-flying observatory, were used to measure a small "side-to-side" wobble of the red dwarf star Gliese 876, due to the tug of the planet Gliese 876b (Gl 876b), in both right ascension and declination, thus defining the inclination of its orbit. And by combining the astrometric with the radial-velocity data, the precise mass could be calculated.

Gl 876b is only the second extrasolar planet (after HD 209458) for which a mass so precise has been determined, and it is the first whose mass has been confirmed by using the astrometry technique. Now that this technique has been proven viable for space-based observatory planet confirmations, it will be used in the future to nail down uncertainties in the masses of dozens of extrasolar planets discovered so far. There are a few more stars where this kind of research is possible with Hubble, but most candidate stars are too distant. But astronomers can look forward to doing these kinds of studies on literally hundreds of stars with the planned NASA Space Interferometry Mission, which will be far more precise than Hubble in this respect.

A paper by Benedict & al., STScI and Univ. of TX Press Releases and coverage by S&T, UPI, Dsc, SC, ST.

Jovian planets form in hundreds - not millions - of years, study suggests

Gas giant planets like Jupiter may form in just hundreds of years, not the millions of years previously thought - in new computer models protoplanetary disks around young stars break up after just a few orbits: U Wash. Press Release [SN] and coverage by Ast., CNN, UPI, SC, ST.
More Sun-like stars may have planetary systems than currently thought, a study of planetary disks around T Tauri stars suggests: Vanderbilt Press Release [SD], more.

ISS Update

Endeavour has brought another truss segment to the ISS, an 'action plan' has been approved by all partners to increase the crew size after 2006, and Morgan has her 1st (ISS-bound) flight assignment: APOD with the new look of the ISS, NASA and ESA Releases on the action plan, NASA on a "challenging year ahead" for the ISS, ESA on the ISS contruction, Science@NASA on Morgan, a KSC Release, the Status and coverage on Dec. 18: FT, ST. Dec. 17: FT. Dec. 15: FT. Dec. 13: ST, NZ.
Dec. 12: FT, ST. Dec. 11: SN, SC, ST. Dec. 10: SN. Dec. 9: CNN. Dec. 8: SN. Dec. 7: SN, FT, AFP, ST. Dec. 6: BBC, ST (other story). Dec. 5: ST (other story). Dec. 4: ST. Dec. 2: ST. Dec. 1: AFP, ST. Nov. 30: FT, SC, ST. Nov. 29: SN, ST. Nov. 27: New Sci., ST (other story). Nov. 26: Slate, SN. Nov. 25: SN, AP, ST. Nov. 24: BBC, AFP, ST. Nov. 23: CNN, SN. Nov. 22: SN, ST, BBC, AP, SD. Nov. 21: ST (earlier). Nov. 20: SC, ST, SN. Nov. 18: AFP. Nov. 16: ST.
Columbia has been rolled out for the January 16 "FREESTAR" mission: UPI, ST. Crew eager to go: FT. The Israeli passenger: BBC.

Neither CONTOUR nor NEAR respond to calls from Earth

Efforts to communicate with CONTOUR ended shortly after noon on Dec. 20 without a signal from the NASA spacecraft, and mission managers say they will not try to contact the silent probe again: News Item, AFP, SC (earlier), ST, FT (earlier).

NEAR Shoemaker had also kept mum despite a 12-hour effort to communicate with it on Dec. 10: News Flash [SR], Ast.

But Pioneer 10 has been heard from again on Dec. 5 though no telemetry could be deciphered as the signal was just too weak: Status, CNN, NZ. Student instrument to fly on Pluto mission: JHU/APL PR. Stardust finishes dust collection: Status, UPI. What happens to DS-1? Science@NASA.

Jupiter's moon Amalthea is "full of holes"

Amalthea, a small inner moon of Jupiter, has an unusually low density which means that it is likely an agglomeration of smaller pieces - this conclusion is based on data collected during Galileo's flyby of the small moon on November 5, when the spacecraft passed within 160 kilometers: JPL Release, Ast., S&T, BBC, CNN, SF Gate, AFP, SC, ST, NZ.

Galileo's tape recorder is finally working again, and more Amalthea data are being played back: Status (earlier), New Sci., Ast., ST, NZ. Bands on Europa: PSRD. New Io views: JPL Release. Jovian moon names: S&T, AFP. How the Jovian moons formed: SwRI Press Release.

Saturn was in opposition on Dec. 17, during the closest approach to the Earth in 30 years: Science@NASA, UPI, CNN. New images glimpse Titan's clouds and surface: Caltech (more) and Berkeley Press Releases and coverage by S&T, Ast., SC, SD, CNN, Wired, ST, RP, NZ. What Titan is like: NAI.

NASA selects Mars Scout finalists

NASA has selected four missions as finalists for its Mars Scout spacecraft program later this decade - one of the four will be selected next August for launch in 2007: NASA and JPL Releases, SC (earlier), Ast., ST. Mars rover launches approach: JPL Release, NSU, BBC.

Beagle 2 delivery date set: ESA, AFP, Guardian, BBC. Testing Mars Express: BBC.

Is or was Mars dry or wet? More data, more papers, more opinions:, Univ. of CO, USGS, UA, LANL, JPL and Ames Press Releases, NSU, New Sci., NYT, SD (earlier), SN, BBC, UPI, SC (other and another story), SF Gate, Ast. (earlier), AFP, FT, ST, Welt. Launching Martian meteorites: S&T. Gallery of current Mars images: CMO.

X-ray glow from clusters of galaxies confirms evidence of missing matter

The spectral glow of an oxygen isotope from three clusters of galaxies might be proof that hot gases there account for a large fraction of the previously unseen matter in the universe: Univ. of Alab. PR.

Quasar's brightness changing fast - a layer of space stuff, perhaps marking the edge of a giant space bubble in which our Sun and some other stars reside, generates the scintillations: SC.

GRO J1655-40, a "runaway black hole"

The black hole X-ray binary GRO J1655-40 moves with a runaway space velocity of 112±18 km/s in a highly eccentric orbit - it is the first black hole candidate for which there is evidence for a runaway motion imparted by a natal kick in a supernova explosion: a paper by Mirabel & al., STScI and ESA releases, AFP, New Sci., Ast., S&T, BBC, ST, CNN, SC, NZ.

Pair of supermassive black hole candidates found in a galactic center (of NGC 6240) for the first time: MPG, Chandra Press Releases, Science@NASA, New Sci., AFP, ST, Ast., BBC, CSM, NYT, UPI, WP, APOD, SC, NZ.

X-ray disk sheds light on elliptical galaxies

The largest disk of hot, X-ray emitting gas ever observed in the universe is 90,000 light years in diameter, about 100,000 times the size of any comparable object - the disk, spinning through a distant galaxy, could offer new information about the way certain galaxies form and evolve: Ohio Univ. PR, NZ.

Collisions between clumps of gas expelled from the vicinity of a black hole may have been observed by Chandra in the SS433 system: Chandra Press Release, Ast.

Prototype of 1st commercial Moon orbiter launched

A prototype of TransOrbital's TrailBlazer was one of six small satellite payloads on board a Russian Dnepr rocket launched on Dec. 20 - the real lunar orbiter will follow next year: Press Release, SN, Space&Tech, ST. Earlier: Press Release, AFP, UPI, FT, ST.

Satellites establish frequency of Megaton-sized impacts

Earth's upper atmosphere is hit about once a year by asteroids that release energy equivalent to five kilotons of TNT, while Tunguska-like events may occur as frequently as once every 400 years: UWO Press Release [SR], NSU, Ast., New Sci., SN, ST, AFP, SC, NZ. Impact-volcanism link claimed - and disputed - again: New Sci.

Abundance of Kuiperoid pairs explained? Perhaps they were not formed by collisions, but the partners met in 3-body interactions: a paper by Goldreich & al. in Nature, Caltech PR, UPI.

Another success for Japan's H-2A

The rocket placed 4 spacecraft in orbit on Dec. 14, including a new ADEOS environmental satellite (which is, among others, carrying a JPL instrument): JPL Release, SN, BBC, AFP, ST, NZ. Also on board was Australia's FedSat: SD, Advertiser, SMH, SunMail, AFP.

A Kosmos has launched two satellites

on Nov. 28, Mozhayets to test navigation satellite technologies and AlSat-1, built for the Algerian government as the first spacecraft of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation: SSTL PR (earlier), SN, AFP, AP, ST.

An Atlas 2A has launched TDRS-J, the last in the current series of NASA communications satellites, on Dec. 4: SN, SC, ST.

But the launch of a Delta II has been delayed which carries the ICESat and CHIPSat science satellites: NASA Release, AFP.

Envisat monitors massive oil spill off Spain

Oil from the wrecked tanker Prestige had already reached the Spanish coast when ESA's Envisat satellite acquired a radar image of the oil slick, stretching more than 150 km, on 17 Nov.: ESA Release.

MSG-1's first images released as satellite is still at 10° W: ESA Release. MSG-1 reveals important information on the Earth's climate with the GERB instrument: BNSC, ESA Releases.

First gravity map of Earth by GRACE released - in 30 days, the mission has exceeded the information gained in over 30 years of previous study: JPL Release. Earth's bulging waistline explained: JPL Release, SC.

  • 30 years ago the Moon was abandoned when Apollo 17 took off: KSC Release, CNN, BBC, AFP (other story), APOD, NZ.
  • VLT images intergalactic shock in the radio galaxy 3C445: ESO Photo Rel. LBT coating test: BBC. Extremely large telescope plans in Europe: RAS Release, BBC.
  • "First Fringes" for new VLTI instrument, MIDI: ESO Press Release. VLTI measures small star diameters, testing stellar models: a paper by Ségrasan & al., an ESO Press Rel., Ast.
  • Hubble images Seyfert's Sextet, galaxies "in a dance of destruction": STScI Release, Ast. And a tiny galaxy born only recently: HubbleSite, SC.
  • Hubble sees 'Double Bubble' in neighboring galaxy, a unique peanut-shaped cocoon of dust, called a reflection nebula, surrounding a cluster of young, hot stars: STScI Release.
  • A cloud of high-energy electrons around a star cluster, RCW 38, has been discovered with Chandra - cause unknown: Release, New Sci.
  • Major changes at Arecibo Obs. will come, including a new director after 10 years: Cornell Release.
  • IMAGE images Earth's plasma sheet, in a new technique for monitoring and predicting space weather: SwRI Press Release [GSFC]. Genesis' 1st year data: SD. How sunspots get their penumbrae: U Rochester PR.
  • Globules found in "Tagish Lake" meteorite, could be precursors of life: JSC Release [SR], GalvNews. More on Tagish Lake: PSRD.
  • Supernovae are less of a threat to life than thought: Inscight, SC.
  • New Director General for ESA chosen - it's Jean-Jacques Dordain: ESA Release.
  • The orbital module of Shenzhou-3 has reentered on Nov. 12: SD. SZ-4 preparations in high gear: SD.
  • German Space Center licenses robotic technology for Orbital Recovery Corporation's telecom satellite "Rescue Tug": Press Release.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
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