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

Pictures of the total eclipse of the Moon on Nov. 8/9
can be found in a large gallery and pages by Brinkmann, Haupt, Stadter, Dittié, Ueberschaer, Viladrich and ESA. Coverage by S&T, BBC, SC, RP and Welt. Previews: an animation, NASA, ESA, S&T, Ast., WP, SC (earlier, still earlier), NZ, RP (earlier). An earlier lunar eclipse in IR: APOD.
Update # 264 of Tuesday, November 11, 2003
The Leonids of 2003 / ESA cuts science / Voyager close to the edge?

Leonids 2003 promise 10(!) days of - weak - outbursts

The great storms are over but the Leonids of 2003 are still promising some excitement - though most likely only for the 'experts' and not the public at large. There will be, in all likelyhood, no outbursts with more than 100 or 200 meteors per hour (compared to the storms of 1999, 2001 and 2002 with peaks at 1500 to 5000 per hour), but then again there could be up to seven different peaks, spread out over an unprecendented time interval of ten days, starting on the morning (UTC) of November 13. The main activity, though, can be expected on the morning of November 19, when some even expect a decent display of bright meteors. Here are the predictions by four groups of theorists, all pretty successful in the past few years:

Date & UTC Trail of ZHR prognosis
Nov. 13,
17:17 / 16:40 /
13:15 and 18:20
1499 120 / 100 / -
(one modell though
sees up to 250)
Nov. 19,
- / 0:25 / -
1733 - / 20 (??) / -
(Nov. 19, many
hours around 5:25)
(The »Fi-
(up to 50?)
Nov. 19,
7:28 / 8:00 / 6:30
1533 100 (?) / <20 / -
Nov. 20,
1:26 / 1:30 / 0:50
1333 15 / 10-20 / -
Nov. 22,
22:02 / 21:00 / -
736 2 / ca. 10 / -
Nov. 23,
2:56 / - / -
636 <10 / - / -

The first column has the date and up to three UTC times for the respective peak, the second one shows in which year the respective dust trail was produced, and the third carries the expected maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate, again several values. The predictions are by Vaubaillon & Colas, Lyytinen und Asher & McNaught, respectively, and a "-" means that no forecast was made for that particular trail. "The Filament" prediction is by Jenniskens and refers to a resonance in which old (and thus big) meteoroids could be captured: If so, a very broad peak, lasting for almost a day, of fireball activity would be possible, but with a ZHR of 50 at best. Except for Nov. 13 the lunar phase will be fine - and all observations, even negative ones, would help to improve the models even more.

A detailled summary in the NAMN Notes, a full paper by Vaubaillon & al. (PDF), more summaries by Science@NASA, Cel.Del. and and individual websites by Vaubaillon & Colas and Jenniskens and coverage by S&T, FT and SC.

"Five wild years" - a long account of the Leonids experience 1998 - 2002!

Dramatic solar activity continues!

Just when it left the solar disk - as visible from the Earth, that is - the famous activity region 486 experienced the strongest flare ever recorded, an X28! And before that another X8 flare had sent yet another CME towards the Earth, though with litte impact: ESA News [SN], NASA Vision, NOAA News [SN] (earlier [SN, SR]), NOAA Advisory, Extreme Flare Alert, USAF Notice (earlier, still earlier), SSTL PR, and coverage of Nov. 11: BdW. Nov. 7: BBC, AFP. Nov. 6: APOD. Nov. 5: BBC, SC, Interfax, ST, Welt, NZ. Nov. 4: S&T, BBC, SC, BdW. Nov. 3: SC, ST. Nov. 1: Ast.
More aurora reports from late October: a collection. Cassini & the Sun: Ast., SC.

ESA cuts science programs: Mercury lander, Eddington gone

At its 105th meeting, on 5/6 November, ESA's Science Programme Committee (SPC) made important decisions concerning the Cosmic Vision program: Due to the current financial exigencies and an outlook with no budget increase or other relief, the SPC was forced to cancel the Eddington mission and rescope the BepiColombo mission. Eddington was to look for Earth-like planets outside our solar system and to use astroseismology to look 'inside' stars and is now gone for good, while the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission loses 'only' its lander. ESA, in conjunction with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, will still put two orbiters around Mercury but the 'ground truth' provided by the lander is a big loss. However, to land on a planet so near the Sun is no small matter and was a bridge too far in present.

The origins of the problems were recognised at the ESA Council meeting held in June. Several sudden demands on finance occurred in the spring, the most obvious and public being the unforeseen Ariane 5 grounding in January, delaying the launches of Rosetta and Smart-1. A temporary loan of EUR 100 million was granted, but must be paid back out of present resources by the end of 2006. ESA's SPC was therefore caught in a vice. Immediate mission starts had to be severely limited and the overall envelope of the programme contained. Now the SPC has brought the scope of the Cosmic Vision program down to a level that necessarily reflects the financial conditions rather than the ambitions of the scientific community: Only one new mission can be started at this time, namely LISA Pathfinder, the technical precursor to the world's first gravitational wave astronomical observatory, LISA, which will launch in 2012.

ESA Press Release and coverage by BBC (earlier), AFP, SN, SC, ST, NZ.

NASA selects five Explorer mission concepts for study

NASA has chosen five mission concepts, ranging from studies of Jupiter to searches for dark matter, for further study: NASA Release, ST.
ESA to purchase two Foton missions from Russia for launch in mid-decade: ESA Release, ST.

Data inconclusive - Voyager 1 close to the "edge" of the solar system?

Has the famous spacecraft - launched 26 years ago - finally reached the "termination shock", a violent zone that is the source of beams of high-energy particles that marks the inner rim of the region where interplanetary space changes into interstellar space? The data are still inconclusive as demonstrated by three contradictory papers published in late October and early November. "Voyager 1 has seen striking signs of the region deep in space where a giant shock wave forms, as the wind from the Sun abruptly slows and presses outward against the interstellar wind," says Voyager project scientist Ed Stone: "The observations surprised and puzzled us, so there is much to be discovered as it begins exploring this new region at the outer edge of the solar system."

The termination shock is where the solar wind is slowed by pressure from gas between the stars: The solar wind slows abruptly from its average speed of about 120 to 260 km/s. Estimating the location of the termination shock is hard, because we don't know the precise conditions in interstellar space. We do know speed and pressure of the solar wind changes, which cause the termination shock to expand, contract and ripple. From about August 1, 2002 to February 5, 2003, scientists noticed unusual readings from the two energetic particle instruments on Voyager 1, indicating it had entered a region of the solar system unlike any previously encountered. It would be nice if Voyager could measure the speed of the solar wind, because the solar wind slows abruptly at the termination shock. However, the instrument that measured solar wind speed no longer functions on the spacecraft.

Scientists must instead use data from instruments that are still working to infer if Voyager pierced the termination shock. "We have used an indirect technique to show the solar wind slowed down from about 120 km/s to much less than 17 km/s," says one scientist: "We used this same technique when the instrument measuring the solar wind speed was still working. The agreement between the two measurements was better than 20 percent in most cases." "The analysis of the Voyager 1 magnetic field observations in late 2002 indicate that it did not enter a new region of the distant heliosphere by having crossed the termination shock," disagrees another one: "Rather, the magnetic field data had the characteristics to be expected based upon many years of previous observations, although the intensity of energetic particles observed is unusually high."

The complete Nature papers are available for free thru links in this summary article!
JPL [GSFC, NASA], Lucent and JHU [SR] Press Releases, more background and coverage by S&T, New Sci., NSU, Dsc., SciAm, WP, FT, AFP, CNN, BBC, Guard., CSM, Telegr., SC, ST, BdW, NZ, Welt, RP.

How the arrival of Mars Express will play out

in front of the media and the world is finally being arranged: ESA Press Release, BBC, AFP (earlier), SC. Behind Beagle 2: Guardian.
Spirit's instrument problem solved - the Mössbauer Spectrometer is working again: JPL News, Ast., ST.

The Rosetta launch campaign has begun

on October 24: ESA News, Allied Signal PR. How Rosetta will land on a large comet for which the lander mechanism wasn't built: ESA PR, Allied PR.
How SMART-1 made it through all those solar events: ESA PR.

ISS Update

The station is now manned continuously for three years. A NASA Release on the crew of STS-114, a JSC Release, a LockMart Release, an ESA Release, a Plan. Soc. Release and coverage (also of NASA's long-term planning for human spaceflight) of Nov. 10: SN, SpaceRev, AP, Guitar News Weekly, SC. Nov. 9: WP. Nov. 8: FT, ST.
Nov. 7: SN, SC 2, 1. Nov. 6: New Sci., AP, AFP, SC, ST 2, 1. Nov. 5: FT, WP, ScienceWise, SC. Remembering 30 years of Skylab: NSU, SD.
Yang was having fun in HK where the 1st yuhangyuan was celebrated. Coverage of the trip & China's plans of Nov. 10: SD. Nov. 8: AFP, ST. Nov. 7: AFP. Nov. 5: People's Daily, SD 2, 1, AFP, AP. Nov. 3: China Daily, CSM, AFP. Nov. 2: People's Daily 2, 1. Nov. 1: Taipei Times, AFP, Xinhua 2, 1.

The galaxy closest to the Milky Way

has been discovered in Canis Major - where it is already in the process of being eaten by the much larger Milky Way: a paper by Bellazzini & al., an RAS Press Release [SN, SR], NSU, Ast., S&T, New Sci., Dsc., BBC, SC, ST, NZ, BdW, dpa.

An amazing map of the whole Universe

which you can hang on the wall and which provides deep insights has been created by Gott & al., illustrations.

A very dense review of modern cosmology and how it is linked to particle physics has been written up by Ellis. What the CMB 'sounds' like: New Sci. [alt.], RP.

Does Dark Matter clump and form a "ghost universe"? Simulations say so - and may solve some mysteries of large structure formation: Berkeley Press Release [SN]. Voids not so void: NSU.

Astronomers Break Ground on Atacama Large Millimeter Array

Scientists and dignitaries from Europe, North America and Chile have broken ground on November 6, 2003, on what will be the world's largest, most sensitive radio telescope operating at millimeter wavelengths: ESO, NRAO Press Releases.

8-meter mirror travels up Mt. Graham for the Large Binocular Telescope: UA Release, S&T.

Big Bear reopens after the fires - no harm was done to the famous solar observatory: NJIT Press Release.

First light for big IR camera in Hawaii: U HI Press Release, BBC, Honolulu Adv., StarBull.

Contamination affects Chandra instrument

A layer of contamination is reducing the effectiveness of the ACIS instrument on NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory: New Sci., SC, ST.

Telescopes on the Moon? At a hearing R. Angel made the case.

Let's all collect some $$ and build a little Hubble!

So says an offer by the Russian space industry - for $30m a moderate but powerful space telescope could be built from the Yamal platform: SD.

The best target star for Darwin? Here the chances for Earth-like planets may be the highest: BBC.

China launches science satellite

The satellite is designed to remain in orbit for 18 days before returning to Earth and is carrying equipment for "scientific research, land surveying, mapping and other scientific experiments": People's Daily, Xinhua, AFP, SN, AP, ST.

France, Russia sign deal for European space pad - the agreement will open up Russian access to the European Space Agency (ESA) launch complex in French Guiana from 2006: AFP, ST.

  • The N44 complex in the LMC as seen with the WFI.
  • Turbulent structures in the Carina Nebula next to Eta Car as seen by Hubble [SR].
  • A restless spiral galaxy with X-ray sources going on and off all the time as monitored by Chandra.

  • Vesta's surface mineralogy studied with Subaru.
  • How it was shown that an 'asteroid' was part of Apollo 12 and why the final proof has still not been possible: Plan. Soc.
  • Why some amino acids are present in meteorites and others are absent: GSA Press Release.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to!), Skyweek