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

New shock for Japan's space program: H-2A launch fails!
A Japanese H-2A rocket carrying two reconnaissance satellites was destroyed shortly after launch on Nov. 29 when one of its strap-on boosters failed to separate: JAXA Press Release [SR] and coverage by SN, New Sci., BBC, CNN, Kyodo, Yomiuri, Korea Herald, Straits Times, SMH, AFP (earlier, still earlier), AP, Rtr, ST.
Update # 265 of Monday, December 1, 2003
Solar eclipse seen from Antarctica! / Leonids picture "noisy" / No thick ice on the Moon: radar / Giant radio telescope coming! / Showdown for Nozomi

First ever total eclipse observations from Antarctica

History has been made on November 23 (or 24, depending on your favorite time zone): When the umbra of the Moon touched Antarctica, a handful of observers were there to witness the rare event - and in at least one location, around the Novolazarevskaya and Maitri research stations, the skies were perfect for a view of the totally eclipsed Sun very close to the Horizon. Some had flown in from South Africa, paying dearly for the service but having the time of their lives - e.g. David Levy. This was also the spot from where the marvellous Japanese TV pictures originated that were shown around the world (but not live on CNN-I or BBC World - shame on them): Originally those were even shot in HDTV. Luck had truly been with "Novo" as the site is now known: Just a day before a violent snow storm had almost prevented the astronomers from flying in on time, and they had to get out quickly because the next one was approaching ...

Not so lucky were the passengers of a Russian icebreaker off the Russian station Mirnyy on the 'other' side of Antarctica: Here thick clouds permitted only a few fuzzy glimpses of the eclipsed Sun. No problems were encountered by several airplanes, of course, that intercepted the umbra in mid-air: some nice photographs have already been made available from them. On an Australian one, a gyro-stabilized camera platform had even been constructed, suspended over the flight deck by bungee cords. And there was some real science involved as well: Scientists had planned to make some unique light-scattering measurements on Earth's upper atmosphere during the flight, using the moon's shadow as an illumination probe to get information on particle distribution that they can't get with remote sensing or LIDAR.

Reports by Bruenjes (earlier travel log), Winter (other, yet another and earlier page) from Novo, by Nojum and Staiger from the icebreaker, by "Shelios", S&T and TQ from the Chilean and by Finlay and Dighaye from the Aussie plane, where also this and this wide-angle shot were taken.
The Moon's umbra can be seen on this, this and this Terra picture, discussed also by EarthObs and as an APOD. A picture collection by RP, the corresponding SOHO view, a report on all webcams - and ESA's role.
Coverage by S&T, NHK, The Australian (earlier), NZ Herald, Japan Times, CTV (with the Japanese video!), BBC, SC, AFP, AP [ABC], RP and NZ.
Advance press releases from Williams College and UA and previews by Antarctic Sun, Nat'l Geogr., S&T, Ast., NZ Herald, SMH, The Australian, AFP 3, 2, 1, ABC, BBC, SC and BdW - and many more links are here!

Leonids performance of 2003: the picture is still "noisy"

"The data collected are still producing a noisy picture," says the International Meteor Organization about the observations by serious visual observers that have been received so far from the 2003 Leonids. Giant outbursts were not expected anyway (see last Update lead), but at least some peaks. Did they occur? "An enhancement of activity is found on November 13, between 12h UT and 24h UT," says the analysis as of Nov. 25: "This coincides with the predicted encounter time with the 1499 dust trail of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The clearest feature of the profile is the activity maximum on November 19, between 0h UT and 22h UT. No sharp peak time is found. Predictions were given for the 1533 dust trail encounter between 6h30 and 8h UT. The predictions mentioned are based on calculations by Asher, Lyytinen, Nissinen, McNaught, and Vaubaillon."

Incidentally one of these predictions had been revised at the last moment when Lyytinen discovered an error in his model for the dust trail released in 1733: It would come later on the 19th but could be stronger (like with a ZHR of 70) than thought. The new encounter time was 16:50 UTC: "The long duration of the observed November 19 peak maybe attributed to the superposition of the two encounters," says the IMO, talking about the 1533 and 1733 trails. But the "[d]ata are not sufficient though to derive more precise peak times." The same goes for the maximum ZHRs that were reached: While some Japanese observers claim that their rates for the Nov. 13 and 19 peaks topped near 100/hour, the more conservative IMO analysis sees only max. values of 30 and 60, respectively, at this stage.

IMO News of Nov. 25, 20, 14 and 11, plus some early impressions by YK Chia and an APOD; this SC story, though, doesn't help at all.
Previews by Caltech, CelDel, S&T, Ast., SciAm, BBC, Dsc., Aspen Times, SC and NZ.

Impact role in Perm-Triassic mass extinction 251 Myr ago?

Dozens of rare mineral grains found in ancient rocks in Antarctica could be the "smoking gun": Rochester Univ. PR, SC, BBC, BdW.
Quest for space impact riches - where asteroids struck the Earth may be the key to discoveries of new deposits: BBC. Owning lunar material: NYT.

Arecibo radar shows no evidence of thick ice at lunar poles

Despite evidence from two space probes in the 1990s, radar astronomers say they can find no signs of thick ice at the moon's poles. If there is water at the lunar poles, the researchers say, it is widely scattered and permanently frozen inside the dust layers, something akin to terrestrial permafrost. Using the 70-cm-wavelength radar system at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the research group sent signals deeper into the lunar polar surface - more than five meters - than ever before at this spatial resolution. "If there is ice at the poles, the only way left to test it is to go there directly and melt a small volume around the dust and look for water with a mass spectrometer," says Bruce Campbell of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution.

Suggestions of lunar ice had first come in 1996 when radio data from the Clementine spacecraft gave some indications of the presence of ice on the wall of a crater at the moon's south pole. Then, neutron spectrometer data from the Lunar Prospector spacecraft, launched in 1998, indicated the presence of hydrogen, and by inference, water, at a depth of about a meter at the lunar poles. But radar probes by the 12-cm-wavelength radar at Arecibo had since shown no evidence of thick ice at depths of up to a meter. "Lunar Prospector had found significant concentrations of hydrogen at the lunar poles equivalent to water ice at concentrations of a few percent of the lunar soil," says Donald Campbell. "There have been suggestions that it may be in the form of thick deposits of ice at some depth, but this new data from Arecibo makes that unlikely."

Cornell Press Release, S&T, Ast., New Sci., Dsc., BBC, Guardian, AP, AFP, Rtr, ST, RP, NZ, BdW.

Russia to join India's moon program?

India has drawn up a moon-study programme, and Russia with its long-time experience is in favour of participating in it, Yury Koptev says: AFP.

Heavy metal "frost" on Venus' mountains?

The highlands of Venus are covered by a heavy metal "frost", say planetary scientists - because it is hot enough to melt lead at the surface, metals vaporise and condense at cooler, higher elevations: BBC.

ISS Update

It's now expected that bringing the shuttle back to flight will cost $280m. NASA Releases on new members of the ASAP and NESC and the 5th anniversary of the 1st ISS component launch, Science@NASA on bacteria in µg and coverage (also of deeper issues of U.S. manned spaceflight) of Dec. 1: FT, WP, SpaceRev, ST. Nov. 30: ST, SR. Nov. 28: FT, Guardian, NZ. Nov. 27: BBC, CNN, AP, AFP, ST, NZ. Nov. 26: FT, WP, SC. Nov. 25: FT 2, 1, AFP, ST, NZ. Nov. 24: AFP 2, 1, AP, FT 2, 1, SpaceRev. Nov. 22: SN, ST. Nov. 21: AD, FT. Nov. 20: AFP.
Nov. 19: New Sci., BBC, SC 2, 1, AFP, ST. Nov. 18: FT 3, 2, 1, SC 2, 1, AFP, ST. Nov. 17: AD, Welt. Nov. 16: FT, SR, SC. Nov. 15: ST. Nov. 14: FT, SC 2, 1. Nov. 13: ST. Nov. 12: SR, NZ.
What China is up to in space and how others should react, according to the Congressional Research Service and SpaceRev. Also coverage of Nov. 29: AP, Nov. 26: Channel News Asia, Nov. 25: People's Daily Nov. 15: AFP. Nov. 14: China Daily. Nov. 13: People's Daily.
HARC's "Liberator" a serious X Prize contender? At least it'll be safe, they say: SpaceRev, Huntsville Times. 5th, 6th test flight for SS1: ST, SC.

The decision: giant LOFAR radio telescope comes to Europe!

The revolutionary radio interferometer for very long wavelengths will be built in the Netherlands and partly in Germany: MPG [alt. version] and ASTRON press releases and homepages in English and German.

SMA dedicated on Mauna Kea, the first sub-mm radio interferometer: CfA Press Release.

Nozomi's fate in the balance

On Dec. 9 a trajectory maneuver must work to get the damaged Japanese s/c into Martian orbit - and the electrical system must be repaired until Dec. 2: a JAXA PR and coverage of Dec. 1: Dsc. Nov. 27: CBC, ZEIT. Nov. 25: BBC. Nov. 22: ST. Nov. 21: SC. Nov. 20: BdW. Nov. 15: AP, ST. Nov. 14: Plan. Soc. story, Yomiuri Shimbun, AFP.

MARIE on Odyssey fails - due to the Sun? Status, Ast., FT, BBC, AP, ST. MER Status of Nov. 19; AW&ST, AFP. Mars Express doing fine, high hopes: Status, Guardian, AstroBio, BBC - and ESA Special Pages.

Delta-like fan on Mars evidence of watery past? MSSS, NASA Releases [SR], Ast., ST, BdW. Taller sand ripples on Mars: GSA PR, BdW. Atacama soil mimics Mars': Ast., BBC, BdW, Welt, NZ. Levin still a believer: SD. Mars, Moon differentiation: PSRD.

Cassini captured Jupiter in the sharpest-ever full picture

during the 2000 flyby - a mosaic has now been constructed from 27 images: JPL Release [SN, SR], Ast., AFP, Denver Post, NonPareil, SC, NZ.

Ion engine for possible Prometheus use tested - the HiPEP ion engine was operated at power levels up to 12 kW and over an equivalent range of exhaust velocities from 60 to 80 km/s: GRC Press Release, New Sci.

SMART-1 progresses thru the radiation belts: Status (earlier).

GRB 030329 reveals more secrets

of the gamma ray burst phenomenon: a paper by Greiner & al., MPG, ESO, RUB and Caltech Press Releases and Ast., Dsc. and BdW stories.

The Milky Way in gamma rays mapped by ESA's Integral observatory: ESA News.

The interior of the Homunculus Nebula

around Eta Carinae has been scrutinized with the VLTI - the wind of the star turns out to be extremely elongated: ESO PR.

Dying star shoots with jets - the mechanism that produces bipolar planetary nebulae? JPL Release.

Chandra observes jet at z=4.3 - could be used as a cosmological probe: Chandra Release.

Saturn, rings, Titan occult two stars

The Titan occultation lured many expeditions into Southern Africa (with some successes and many failures), while the occultation by the rings could be seen in Europe and the U.S.: Sicardy, Cassini and Mainz pages, S&T. Previews: IOTA, S&T.

Comet Encke near Earth, at 7th mag. - but it's fuzzy and difficult to see: SC.

SPOT 1 gets removed from orbit

A the end of its service lifetime SPOT 1 is being lowered into an orbit below 600 km: CNES Release.

Space Tug progress - a Dutch company with ESA ties comes on board: Orbital Recovery PR [SD].

Sunspot trio came back, brought another storm

The three famous sunspot groups from October made another trip over the visible disk in November and have just disappeared over the limb; on Nov. 20 another nice aurora was caused by a Nov. 18 flare in AR 484. SEC, NOAA and AFRL Releases, and GSFC [SR, SN] and ESA Press Releases plus a SOHO HotShot about observations of the ARs on the far side of the Sun.

A new aurora gallery, some pictures by Gaehrken and Lensch (from Austria!), another October aurora picture, the face of the Sun on Nov. 26, Nov. 24, Nov. 22, Nov. 20 and Nov. 18 and coverage of Nov. 27: S&T. Nov. 26: Dsc. Nov. 22: BdW. Nov. 21: Rtr. Nov. 20: SC. Nov. 19: SC. Nov. 17: BBC. Nov. 13: SC.

Why is the Sun still so active? Science@NASA. What Haystack saw: MIT PR. CME key role in solar cycle: GSFC and ESA Releases, NSU, BBC, SC. Ulysses during the solar maximum: Lucent PR [SN]. Top SOHO pics: SC. A litte scifi story: SD.

Candidate sites tested for big solar telescope

The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) will have a 4-m mirror and advanced adaptive optics: Ast.

NASA to conduct EIS for Keck outriggers to determine the environmental impact on Mauna Kea in detail: S&T.

Chandra cleaning considered

The team that runs the Chandra orbiting telescope is talking about ways to "bake out" a contaminant distorting readings taken by its workhorse instrument: ACIS special page, MSFC Release, FT.

How Hubble will be deorbited with a new $300m 'space tug': WP, SC.

Yet another delay for the Gravity Probe B

Now it may not launch until 2004: Status Reports of Nov. 25 and Nov. 14 KSC Release, SN, ST.

Big cosmic ray detector to fly over Antarctica in early December: Univ. of Chicago PR. CDMS II experiment begins: FNAL PR. Tending IceCUBE: AP. Time variations of the fine structure constant driven by quintessence? Northeastern PR.

Pleiades in rare interstellar 3-body collision

New data suggest that the Pleiades are encountering two clouds simultaneously, giving rise to an extraordinary and previously unknown occurrence, a three-body collision in space: NOAO Press Release, Ast., SC, BdW.

Planet formation observed with nulling technique - a giant, Jupiter-like protoplanet seems to be forming in a young star's dust disk: UA Press Release.

Hunting relic solar systems around White Dwarfs with the timing technique - a "cheap method": McDonald Obs. PR [SR], Ast. Free-floating planet formed like star: New Sci.

  • JFK's last space speech was delivered just a day before the assassination: full text. His legacy for U.S. space: FT.
  • India's space program has turned 40 - it was born on Nov. 21, 1963: AP.
  • 20 years ago, the first Spacelab mission with W. Germany's 1st astronaut: RP.
  • Space shuttle "Enterprise" at new NASM display hall at Dulles airport: CNN, SR, SN.

  • Europe's "White Paper" on space policy in full. EC adopts plan: PR, AFP, SC, ST,
  • Siberian space scare - toxic fuel dropped on parts of Siberia during space launches may be poisoning unborn children, Russian TV reports: BBC.
  • Why no claim of lunar 'ownership' is for real, is explained clearly by V. Pop.
  • Delta Heavy awaits maiden flight, a rocket of monstrous proportions and power: SN.
  • Chinese satellite returns - the FSW-18 spacecraft landed on Nov. 21: ST.


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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to dfischer@astro.uni-bonn.de!), Skyweek