The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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A German companion - only available here!
Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

Fire destroys Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia
A third of Australia's astronomy program was wiped out on January 18 when bushfires gutted the Mount Stromlo Observatory (but spared the nearby NASA DSN station) - among the losses are historical large telescopes and a modern instrument built for Gemini: a special page on the disaster [SR version of PR], the homepage of the Mt. Stromlo & Siding Spring Observatories (an older version is available through the WayBackMachine), the instrument now lost (its Australian and U.S. homepages), a JPL Release on the DSN antenna and coverage by the Sydney Morning Herald on Jan. 19, 20 and 21 (plus full coverage of the blaze), ABC, Courier Mail, The Age, SD, Nature, BBC, S&T, Ast., New Sci., NYT, ST, SC, Sp, NZ.
Update # 247 of Saturday, January 25, 2003
Rosetta loses Wirtanen launch window / ICESat and CHIPS in orbit / First confirmed exoplanet discovery with the transit method / Three new moons for Neptune / Radio pioneer Reber dead at 90

Launches, arrivals and events in 2003
Based on the Space Calendar, Spaceflight Now's Launch Schedule
and Florida Today's Launch Forecast

Jan. 25

Launch of SORCE, the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment satellite Homepage

March 29

Launch of ProSeds, the Propulsive Small Expendable Deployer system (together with a GPS satellite) Homepage

April 4

Launch of GALEX, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer Homepage

April 15

Launch of SIRTF, NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility Homepage


Launch of Muses-C, the first asteroid sample return mission Muses C info at PDS-SBN and NEO

May 7

Transit of Mercury in front of the Sun Espenak page

May 20

Launch of SCISAT-1, Canada's first science satellite in over thirty years Space Daily story

May 23

Launch of Mars Express, ESA's first Mars mission Homepage

May 30 & June 25

Launch of the two NASA Mars Landers that consist mainly of rovers. Homepage

May 31

Annular eclipse of the Sun, shortly after sunrise over Northern Europe Espenak page

June 13?

Launch of SMART-1, the first ESA Moon mission and the first of the Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology. Homepage

June 30

Launch of MOST and MIMOSA, a small space telescope and an atmosphere explorer MOST and MIMOSA Homepages

July 29

Launch of Gravity Probe-B, a long-delayed NASA mission to test General Relativity. Homepage

Aug. 27

Mars is closer to Earth than in 60'000 years ALPO story

Sep. 21

Galileo impacts Jupiter, almost 8 years after arriving in orbit JPL Release


Launch of the Lunar Trailblazer, the first commercial Moon orbiter Homepage


Launch of the Shenzhou V, the first crewed Chinese spaceflight AFP story

Nov. 23

Total Eclipse of the Sun over Antarctica Espenak page

Dec. 5

Launch of Swift, a NASA satellite to hunt for GRBs Homepage

Dec. 21

Mars Express arrives at Mars and goes into orbit Homepage

Rosetta misses launch window to Wirtanen, costly search for new comet opportunity underway

Arianespace and the European Space Agency have decided on an indefinite postponement of the launch of the Rosetta comet mission - the search is now on for alternative target comets and trajectories. The Review Board called for Arianespace and all its partners to make sure, in the framework of a programme for the resumption of Ariane-5 flights, that all Ariane-5 system qualification and review processes have been checked. Arianespace and the European Space Agency, together with all interested parties, are now going to consult each other to determine arrangements for the soonest possible launch of Rosetta.

The delay will likely cost ESA EUR 50m to 100m - but given the about 1 billion Euros already spent by the agency as well as numerous national agencies, that's not too dramatic. Media stories, esp. here in Germany, about a total disaster of the mission are plain nonsense. Now what? According to a source close to the project, "there will be no launch for the next 5 months, and alternate opportunities are [being] looked at. Those alternatives were already mentioned in the Rosetta mission definition study, but ESA will look at eventual, additional opportunities. Most likely a launch date in 2004 will be picked, which allows about the same mission duration as this opportunity."

The source also had something to say about how the decision to postpone the launch had come about: "While on last Friday [Jan. 10] the launch qualification review closed with a clear 'GO', over the weekend the report of the 'investigation team for the failed launch 157' apparently identified so many unsolved weaknesses of all Ariane-5 versions that the head of Arianespace said that they would not launch Rosetta. He had the say, but the vote was unanimous." Now the spacecraft will be dismounted from the launcher, the fuel on the spacecraft will be drained (something it was not built for), and some of the instruments will be serviced by their teams. Otherwise the s/c will stay in one piece and will go into storage, probably in Kourou.

A decision on which mission profile to fly will probably be made this May (based on recommendations to be drafted until the end of February), and one idea floated after the postponement became known has already been discarded: A voyage to Wirtanen launching this fall and flying past Venus is impossible because the spacecraft would not be prepared for the heat. Another interesting option, already discussed 10 years ago when it was even the front runner, had been to launch this July and reach Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in 2008, with one flyby each of Mars and Earth.

A launch in 2004 is considered most likely at this point, or even in 2005. Meanwhile ESA has also put on hold all plans to develop an even more powerful version of the Ariane 5. "We do not need additional, more powerful versions of the Ariane 5," says the ESA DG: "The present version of the launcher can be kept on for a few years longer than scheduled." (DF, with the original Rosetta Study Report of Sept. 1993, ESA code SCI[93]7 p. 67-9 and two sources in the project)

Posted earlier

Ariane 5-Plus disaster explained, Rosetta's fate still undecided

An inquiry board has concluded that the failure of a main engine cooling system led to the loss of the first "10 ton" Ariane 5 last Dec. 11. A leak in a cooling circuit caused the nozzle of the booster's Vulcain 2 main engine to overheat and lose integrity, which in turn caused a thrust imbalance and eventual loss of control of the vehicle. The cooling failure was likely caused by fissures in cooling tubes as well as "non-exhaustive definition" of the loads the engine is subjected to during flight.

Because the cooling system is different on the Vulcain 1 engine used on the baseline Ariane 5, officials believe that no modifications are required to it, permitting it to return to flight as soon as a series of tests to the engine nozzle are concluded. This may or may not mean that the baseline Ariane 5 can return to service in time to launch ESA's Rosetta comet rendezvous mission, which must launch during a launch window that closes at the end of January - a decision will be announced on January 14, while the consequences will be discussed in an ESA press conference the following morning.

ESA Press Releases of Jan. 21, Jan. 14 and Jan. 8 [alt. version], an MPG Press Release and Arianespace Press Releases of Jan. 14, Jan. 7 [ESA version, SR; more] and Dec. 30.

Coverage of the consequences for Rosetta and Ariane itself by NSU, BBC (earlier, still earlier, other, earlier and still earlier stories), S&T, Ast., ST (earlier, still earlier), SD, AFP (earlier, still earlier, even earlier), New Sci. (earlier), Plan. Soc., Indep., SN, EU Business, SC, Rtr, NZ.
Coverage of the accident report by ST (earlier), BBC (earlier), New Sci., AFP (earlier, still earlier, much earlier), AP, SC, NZ (earlier).
Earlier: ESA, IC and MPG Releases and stories by ZEIT and BBC.

Bright comet close to the Sun in mid-February

C/2002 V1 (NEAT) - at about 6m in late January - could rise to -2m or even -3m briefly on Feb. 20, but only 6° from the Sun; in the weeks before and after perihelion it may be observable though: Ephemeris, Aerith page, another ephemeris, some thoughts, pictures and observations tabulated at JPL and ICQ; S&T.
Meanwhile C/2002 X5 (Kudo-Fujikawa) has just passed 6th mag. (the light curve has flattened) and was near 5.8 mag. in mid-January - it's disappearing now from view now but should reappear in the FOV of SOHO's LASCO in late January, perhaps at +4m: Aerith page, ephemeris, some analysis, video images, more pictures and tabulated observations at JPL and ICQ; S&T.
Saturn near M1, the Crab Nebula: pictures by Wodaski and Gaehrken and previews by Ast. & SC. Watch the planets now: Science@NASA.

Two successful Proton launches

took place on Dec. 25 and 29, using different versions of the rocket that suffered a failure of the DM upper stage in November: ST (earlier).
Proton failure blamed on particle contamination, but the final report could not find a root cause for the failure: ILS Press Release [SD, SN] (earlier), Energia Press Release, ST (earlier), SN.
Lots of developments in Europe's space science in ESA and individual nations are discussed in a long SD story. EC & ESA debate common goals: ESA Release. Soyuz launches from Baikonur? AFP.

Delta II launches NASA'S ICESat and CHIPS satellites, to study climate and interstellar space

With a delay of one day a Delta II has launched two NASA science satellites into polar orbits at an altitude of approximately 580 km. ICESat, the rocket's primary payload, will measure the thickness of ice sheets as well as study topography and cloud structure. It is the latest in a series of Earth Observing System spacecraft, following the Terra satellite launched in December 1999, and the Aqua satellite launched in 2002. The primary role of ICESat, the Ice, Cloud, land and Elevation Satellite, is to quantify ice sheet growth or retreat and to thereby answer questions concerning many related aspects of the Earth's climate system, including global climate change and changes in sea level. The instrument used is a very precise laser altimeter.

CHIPS or CHIPSat, a small spacecraft designed to study hot interstellar plasmas, was built by SpaceDev for the University of California Berkeley under NASA's University Explorer program. The Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer will study the gas and dust in space, which are believed to be the basic building blocks of stars and planets. It will carry out all-sky spectroscopy of the diffuse background at wavelengths from 90 to 260 with a peak resolution of lambda/150 (about 0.5 eV). CHIPS data will help scientists determine the electron temperature, ionization conditions, and cooling mechanisms of the million-degree plasma believed to fill the local interstellar bubble. The majority of the luminosity from diffuse million-degree plasma is expected to emerge in the poorly-explored CHIPS band, making CHIPS data of relevance in a wide variety of Galactic and extragalactic astrophysical environments.

The homepages of ICESat and CHIPS, Press Releases by NASA on the launch and CHIPS and by Wallops, NASA, Boeing (earlier), SpaceDev (earlier), Ohio State and Berkeley, plus Science@NASA.
Status and coverage by SN (earlier), ST (earlier), BBC, AFP, SC, Ast.

Titan 2 launches Coriolis spacecraft

A Titan 2 has launched a military research satellite early on Jan. 6 that carries a Navy instrument for measuring ocean surface wind conditions and an Air Force imager to provide advance notice of geomagnetic storms: SN, SC, ST (earlier).
Next in line - on Jan. 25 - is SORCE, the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, a satellite to study how and why variations in the sun affect Earth's atmosphere and climate: Homepage, Status, Fact Sheet, GSFC, U. Col. and KSC Releases, Ast., FT, SD, AFP, NZ.

First confirmed exoplanet discovery with the transit method

For the first time a planet of another star has been discovered with the transit method and then confirmed with the radial velocity technique - so far all (reliable) discoveries had been made with the latter method, and only in one case transits of the object in front of its sun had been detected later as well (see Update # 158 story 3). Among the 59 cases of transiting somethings found by the OGLE program, one object has now been demonstrated to be a genuine planet - and it has the closest distance to its star of all known exoplants, circling it every 29 hours.

In addition OGLE-TR-56b is the most distant extrasolar planet found to date, no big deal as the transit method is depending only on the brightness of the star. OGLE-TR-56b is more than 20 times farther away than any currently known planet orbiting a normal star. In fact, it is the first planetary system found outside our local neighborhood, the Orion spiral arm that contains the Sun. The new planet orbits a star located in the Sagittarius arm, which is a spiral arm of stars adjacent to ours and closer to the Galaxy center. The newfound planet is also unique because it orbits closer to its star than any other known planet, only four stellar radii or 0.023 AU away, that is 50 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun.

This Jupiter-sized world whips around its star every 29 hours (as compared to the 88-day orbit of Mercury and the 365-day orbit of Earth) and is baked to a temperature of 1900 Kelvin. By measuring the system's velocity wobble, the astronomers derived a mass for the planet of 0.9 Jupiter masses. The magnitude of dimming during transits showed that the planet's size (diameter) is about 1.3 times that of Jupiter, showing that the planet is a gas giant with a density of 0.5 g/cm3, similar in density to Saturn.

Of the 59 OGLE candidates all but four have now been shown to be stellar rather than planetary companions (the other 3 cases need further investigation) - a surprisingly low yield, but fact that the OGLE program is not optimized for exoplanet searches (with many stars crowded in the Milky Way's band) may have played a role. In any case we have now a new, proven technique to discover exoplanets, and - with over a dozen search programs already at work or in preparation - a flood of (candidate) discoveries should be imminent.

A paper by Konacki & al., a CfA Press Release and coverage by NSU, S&T, Ast., BBC, Seattle Times, NYT, Seattle PI, ST, SC, NZ.
A paper by Horne on the great discovery potential of transits, his table of all searches, Tenenbaum and ESA Science News on how to spot life on distant worlds, and the New Sci. on the abundance of habitable worlds. Also a night of observing with a planet hunter was auctioned on eBay for $16k: S&T, SC.

Extrasolar meteors hint at distant planet formation

Detecting microscopic meteors from other solar systems with future radar facilities could provide clues about the formation of planets like Earth: U Toronto PR, AstroBio.
Closest Brown Dwarf found in just 12 light years distance: ESO Press Release, Ast., BBC, NZ. A Brown Dwarf microlens candidate in the OGLE-II database: a paper by Smith & al. The brightest BD? A paper by Salim & al.
Hubble Reveals Complex Circumstellar Disk - the ACS has obtained the clearest view yet of the dust disk around the star HD 141569A, a possible birthplace of planets: STScI Release, Ast. Planets forming around Sigma Her? UCLA PR.

Three new moons for Neptune; first discoveries since Voyager

A team of astronomers has discovered three previously unknown moons of Neptune - this boosts the number of known satellites of the gas giant to eleven. These moons are the first to be discovered orbiting Neptune since the Voyager II flyby in 1989, and the first discovered from a ground-based telescope since 1949. It now appears that each giant planet's irregular satellite population is the result of an ancient collision between a former moon and a passing comet or asteroid. These collisional encounters result in the ejection of parts of the original parent moon and the production of families of satellites, just as they are now being found.

The new satellites were a challenge to detect because they are only about 30-40 kilometers in size. Their small size and distance from the Sun prevent the satellites from shining any brighter than 25th mag. To locate these new moons, multiple exposures were taken with the 4.0-meter Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile, and the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Hawaii. After digitally tracking the motion of the planet as it moved across the sky, the astronomers added many frames together to boost the signal of any faint objects. Since they tracked the planet's motion, stars showed up in the final combined image as streaks of light, while the moons accompanying the planet appeared as points of light.

CfA and NOAO Press Releases.
Coverage by ST, SC, RP, NZ.

The first 'Trojan' asteroid of Neptune

has now been discovered - among the gas planets only Jupiter was known so far to have such co-orbiting asteroids: Lowell and NOAO Press Releases, Ast., BBC, SC, NZ.
A VLT IR image of Uranus with moons and rings: ESO Photos, BBC, S&T, APOD, NZ.
Yet another Jovian moon discovered, driving number to 40: Ast., CNN.

Grote Reber, radio astronomy pioneer, dead at 90

Grote Reber, one of the earliest pioneers of radio astronomy, has died in Tasmania on December 20, just two days shy of his 91st birthday. Reber was the first person to build a radio telescope dedicated to astronomy, opening up a whole new "window" on the Universe that eventually produced such landmark discoveries as quasars, pulsars and the remnant "afterglow" of the Big Bang. His self-financed experiments laid the foundation for today's advanced radio-astronomy facilities. "Reber was the first to systematically study the sky by observing something other than visible light," says Fred Lo, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory: "This gave astronomy a whole new view of the Universe. The continuing importance of new ways of looking at the Universe is emphasized by this year's Nobel Prizes in physics."

Reber was a radio engineer and avid amateur "ham" radio operator in Wheaton, Illinois, in the 1930s when he read about Karl Jansky's 1932 discovery of natural radio emissions coming from outer space. As an amateur operator, Reber had won awards and communicated with other amateurs around the world, and later wrote that he had concluded "there were no more worlds to conquer" in radio. Learning of Jansky's discovery gave Reber a whole new challenge that he attacked with vigor. Analyzing the problem as an engineer, Reber concluded that what he needed was a parabolic-dish antenna, something quite uncommon in the 1930s. Using a 10-meter antenna and electronics he designed and built that pushed the technical capabilities of the era, Reber succeeded in detecting "cosmic static" in 1939, and in 1941, he produced the first radio map of the sky, based on a series of systematic observations.

NRAO Press Release and obituaries from the NYT and The Guardian. Reber's papers: a collection from the ADS (with links to several of the early works in facsimile). Reber & his telescope and an MIT page.

Another radio astronomy pioneer has died, too

Sebastian von Hoerner, who died Jan. 7 at 83, was a radio astronomer and astrophysicist, a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and an expert on the formation of stars: NYT.
Leon van Speybroeck, pioneer of X-ray mirror astronomy, dead at 67 - he was the telescope scientist for NASA's Chandra orbiting X-ray Observatory and led the team that designed the mirrors for the observatory: Chandra advisory, AFP.

ISS Update

Science@NASA on the new IMAX movie and coverage of Jan. 22: SC. Jan. 21: SD. Jan. 19: SN. Jan. 16: ST. Jan. 15: FT, SC. Jan. 8: AFP, AP, ST. Jan. 7: SC, SR. Dec. 28: ST. Dec. 27: SC. Dec. 26: Dsc. Dec. 23: SR.
Why the SLI had to be stopped (see Update # 245 story 2) - it would have cost $35b to build a futuristic shuttle successor: FT. The OSP won't be easy either, though: FT. X-38 put in storage: pictures.
Columbia is in orbit on a rare non-ISS-bound science mission with some 80 experiments to fill programmatic gaps before the space station is fully available for research: Status, Science@NASA of Jan. 24, 17 and 16, Spacehab, ESA, MSFC and Plan. Soc. Releases and coverage on Jan. 25: CNN. Jan. 24: SC. Jan. 23: FT, Rtr, Haaretz, SC, ST. Jan. 22: SC. Jan. 21: SN, FT (other and another story), AFP, SC. Jan. 20: AP. Jan. 19: ST, AP, RP. Jan. 18: SN, CNN, SC. Jan. 17: BBC, SN. Jan. 16: Dsc., NYT, SN, ST, AFP, SC, RP, NZ. Previews: SN (earlier), SR, BBC, ST (earlier, still earlier), AFP (earlier, still earlier, even earlier), SC (earlier), Herald Sun, ZEIT.

Martian 'gully' formation spotted as is happens?

An Australian geologist has identified what could be the first ever active flow of fluids through gullies on Mars from images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft - but contrary to the majority of scientific opinion which suggests that such features were carved by liquid water, he says the flow is most likely frozen carbon dioxide: Univ. of Melbourne PR [SD], ABC, Austr., AFP, BBC.

How unusual is the coming Mars opposition? Some celestial mechanists says it'll be the closest one in 73,000 years, others put the number at 57,000 years: SC vs. ALPO (Beish published that finding already in the spring of 2002, by the way) - at least all agree that Mars will come to within 55.76 million km of Earth this August 27. Martian meteorite hints at water: AFP.

Mars Rovers get ready for their late spring launches - a number of technical challenges have dogged the project, requiring extra time, money and talent, and the primary landing sites have apparently been chosen already: JPL, FT, Welt. Earlier: SC, RP. Preparing Mars Express: BBC.

Moon's early history may have been interrupted

by a 'big burp' of hot rock which, like a blob rising to the top of a lava lamp, would have lifted a blanket covering the moon's core, allowing the core to cool quickly enough to produce a magnetic field: Berkeley PR, AFP, ST, NZ.

Salt in the atmosphere of Io has been found by radio astronomers - it escapes from volcanoes and is a source of chlorine: JHU [SN] and Obs. de Paris PRs, S&T, Ast., AFP, NZ. Recent Io images: Ast.

Co-orbital asteroid now closest to Earth

The first asteroid discovered to orbit the Sun in nearly the same path as Earth made its closest approach to our planet this month before scurrying away for 95 years: NEO Release, cool animations, BBC, FT, RP.

A search for small Kuiperoids with the transit method, called TAOS, is about to begin in Taiwan: Press Release [SD].

Did Pluto take a punch? Pluto and its satellite Charon waltz around each other in slightly out-of-round orbits - this could mean that the planet was hit by a small Kuiper Belt object in the not-too-distant past: S&T.

Climate changes did not hurt the Dinos, so it must have been the impact

This is the conclusion from the best data on the global climate development in the millennia before and after the great impact 65 Myr ago - while the reptiles and other animal groups could adapt to various climate changes, they went out when the cosmic accident happened: PSU Press Release [SR], Daily Camera, NZ.

Alleged photograph of big lunar impact in 1953 remains contentious - it could have been a head-on meteor in Earth's atmosphere, e.g.: New Sci.

Strange solar wave phenomenon mimicks superrotation

The mystery of why supergranules move across the Sun's surface faster than the Sun rotates has been solved with SOHO - instead of actually moving faster than the Sun, their apparent rapid rotation is an illusion generated by a pattern of activity, like fans doing the wave at a sporting event: GSFC and ESA Press Releases, Welt.

High-energy particles from the Sun sometimes go in unexpected directions, data from the Ulysses spacecraft show - they don't always follow the "Parker spiral" like they're supposed to: Science@NASA.

A magnetic 'Slinky Effect' may power the aurora, electric and magnetic field data and images from the POLAR satellite suggest: U. Minn. PR.

China flies Shenzhou 4, announces 1st manned mission for about October

Soon after a Long March booster launched Shenzhou 4 on Dec. 29 (it returned safely on Jan. 5) it was revealed that #5 will carry passengers - and will go in the 2nd half of this year, later an October timeframe was mentioned: ST (earlier, still earlier, even earlier, still earlier, even earlier), AFP (earlier, still earlier, even earlier, still earlier, even earlier, still earlier), SD (earlier, still earlier), SC (earlier, still earlier, even earlier), SR (earlier), BBC (earlier, still earlier), SN (earlier), New Sci., CNN, ABC, Arab News, AP, VOA, CNN, RP, NZ (earlier).

NASA's 2004 budget may include substantial nuclear propulsion funding - so far there are 'exclusive' news, denials and counter-denials: SD, SC (earlier), ST (earlier), BBC, New Sci., Welt, NZ. The 2003 budget may face huge cuts after all: ST, Space News.

Galileo navsat program in dire straits

Disagreements by especially Germany and Italy have prevented the European Space Agency (ESA) from reaching a final agreement regarding its participation in the Galileo satellite navigation system: ESA Press Release, AFP, ST. Commentary: TIME.

Looking back at that other Galileo project - a chat with Galileo project manager Eilene Theilig: transcript.

First 'Milky Ways' found at the 'edge' of the Universe

The first direct evidence has been found that galaxies as large as the Milky Way already had formed when the Universe was less than a billion years old - the clue is in the "double-horn" profile in certain quasar spectra: CfA Press Release, NSU, PhysicsWeb, SC, NZ, BdW.

ACS looks back to the end of the Universe's "Dark Ages"

With the Hubble Telescope and its new camera, we can now see back to the epoch when stars in young galaxies began to shine in significant numbers, concluding the cosmic 'dark ages' about 13 billion years ago: HST Release, New Sci., AFP, ST, RP.

ACS uses a gravitational lens for a really deep view - the Advanced Camera for Surveys has used a natural "zoom lens" in space to boost its view of the distant universe, peering straight through a massive galaxy cluster: STScI Press Release, APOD, S&T, Ast., New Sci., BBC, AFP, SC, NZ, RP, ZEIT (item 2).

The Hubble Deep Field South was imaged deep in the IR

with the VLT, showing a population of very red galaxies that do not display much ongoing star formation: ESO Press Release, SC, Ast., BBC, NZ.

The deepest wide-field color image in the Southern sky has been obtained with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) camera on the 2.2-m MPG/ESO telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory (Chile) - it shows the Chandra Deep Field South (CDF-S): ESO Photo Release.

Another quasar redshift record - now it is 6.43 (and several more hi-z QSOs have also been found by the SDSS): a paper by Fan & al., SDSS and PSU Press Releases and coverage by SC, NSU, Ast., BBC, NYT, WP, NZ.

Did radio astronomers really measure the speed of gravity?

The first effort to measure the speed of gravity (see Update # 242 small items) has led some astronomers to conclude that gravity operates at the speed of light, ±20%: a paper by Kopeikin, NRAO and Univ. of Missouri Press Releases and coverage by ST, SC, New Sci., BBC, SF Gate, Seattle PI, NYT, WP, Ast., NZ, RP. But others consider the math all flawed and the effort as rather useless: papers by Will and Asada, a Physics News Update and coverage by NSU, SC, New Sci., NZ.

Massive stars can form in isolation

New observations with Subaru and the VLT have shown that massive stars can also form far from the luminous parts of galaxies - a compact HII region has been discovered at the very boundary between the outer halo of a Virgo cluster galaxy and Virgo intracluster space: ESO Press Release, Ast., NZ.

Giant radio jet from wrong kind of galaxy - a huge jet coming from a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way is a mystery as it was always thought spirals were the wrong kind of galaxy to generate these jets: STScI PR, Ast., SC.

Distant ring of stars found around the Milky Way

A previously unseen band of stars beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy has been discovered, approximately 120,000 light years in diameter - it may be what's left of a collision between our galaxy and a smaller, dwarf galaxy that occurred billions of years ago: papers by Ibata & al. and Yanny & al., RAS and Rensselaer [SR] Press Releases and coverage by ST, NSU, S&T, Ast., New Sci., SC, BBC, Wired, NYT, WP, New Sci., RP, NZ.

Milky Way monster stars in cosmic reality show - intense Chandra observations reveal that the central engine of our galaxy is a frequent bad actor, prone to numerous outbursts and occasional large explosions: MSFC [SN] and Chandra Releases, an APOD and coverage by S&T, Ast., BBC, NZ, BILD.

The magnetic field structure around the Galactic Center is more complex than thought - it is tangled like a bowl of spaghetti, rather than well-ordered like that of a bar magnet: NRL Press Release.

HETE-2 catches first "dark GRB"

For the first time, scientists have snapped a photo of an unusual type of gamma-ray-burst event one minute after the explosion, a particularly fast-fading type of "dark" burst, which comprises about half of all gamma-ray bursts (as already mentioned briefly in the last Update in story 3 sidebar) - and another telescope got a unique light curve soon thereafter: GSFC and Berkeley Press Releases, KAIT images & light curves and coverage by Ast., ST, SC.
  • Black hole retraction now confessed by NASA, too - there was a fatal error in calculating the mass of the core of M 15 (as already unveiled in Update # 245 small items): NASA Release, SC, RP, NZ. No need for an intermediate mass black hole in G1 either: paper by Baumgardt & al.
  • Starshine 3 is history as the educational mirror satellite has burned up on Jan. 21 - observing reports are still being collected: Homepage.
  • New claims of 'oldest star chart' - is the human figure on an ivory tablet some 32,500 years old the constellation Orion? BBC, NZ.
  • Three plead guilty in moon rock scheme - they stole a safe with lunar samples and martian meteorites: NASA Release, SR, AFP, CNN.
  • "SOHO UFOs" are just CCD blooming effects, astromomers demonstrate: SOHO Statement, Birmingham Post. Earlier: Ananova.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
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