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

Long Total Solar Eclipse met by fine skies along its track
Hardly anyone seems to have been clouded out during the TSE of March 29 which lasted over 4 minutes in Northern Africa: galleries from SpaceWeather, BAA, and UAI, reports collections by Eclipse-Reisen, Astrotreff and and WAA, various results via ESA and NASA (preview), details of many planned experiments (PDF; more), individual reports and pictures of totality from Brazil by Domingues (some corona! Also got the 2nd contact another success), someone from Finland (full corona, but real?), Grassmann (3rd contact captured very well!), numerous observers, Amorim, Natal, Souza and numerous observers, from Ghana by Morehouse Coll., from Niger by Bruenjes (good + funny pix) and Winter, from Libya by Druckmüller & Aniol (the high-end of coronal processing!), the Inst. for Astrophysics (Hawaii), Farnelly, numerous French, Hawley, White, Dighaye, Bachmayer (more pictures), Gomez Sanchez, Ruiz, Rattei, Green, Sirius Algeria, Krizzz, Strickling, Kodama, Saban, Jamei, Robert, Istrate, Ens, Greve, Walti and Fischer (there are also an official site, still "under construction" after the eclipse, and a preview), from Egypt by Uranoscope, Yen (blog and another one), Godard (incl. combination of eclipse corona with SOHO view), (w/fine composites), Dubos (incl. composite), Schroefl, Besnier, Wong (excellent composite; 2nd and 3rd contacts), Crocker, Kerschbaum, Rifkin, Staiger, Zanotti, Maksym and Grupo Saros (blog), from a ship in the Med by Saarinen, from Greece by Kern, Pasachoff [SD] (picture, also merged w/SOHO; preview) and Ayiomamitis [APOD], from Turkey by Bikmaev (corona spectra w/1.5-m scope), Tubitak Obs., Hedayatgaran Research Center, van Gorp (composite of 33 pics; more), Synner (more), Buil, Ewers, Harvey, Sparenberg, Kampschulte (w/composite), Guscott, Heinsius [APOD], Lüthen (composite; earlier version; various steps; technical details in English and German; faint stars), Gottschalk, Bassa, Aras, Exner, Gez (weird! :-), Mayer, Wasserman, Dintinjana & al., Carreira, Zwach, Conu (wide), Encarna, Karhula, Katsiavriades, Strunk (flash spectrum), Moskowitz & Schneider, Kowollik, Osborne, Hombach, Bilsel, Aytun, Freitas, Schmidt, Lawrence, Brinkmann, Tuchan, Jahn, Larsen, Seip, Balch, Hänel and Cobb, from Russia by Marchenko, from space by the ISS crew (more, more and more) and from the partial zone by Stojanovski, Holl, Maslov, Mennekens and Poison, coverage by S&T, Star Bull., WP, various Turkish papers, Vanguard, Deseret News, SC, Xinhua, AFP, MSNBC, NwS, NYT, BBC, Rtr, Milliyet, FAZ, RP, n-tv, Welt and Abendblatt, previews by MSNBC (related story), SC (myths, ISS), AFP (tourists, Ghana), Reuters [alt.], Novosti, AP, NwS and BBC, stamps from Libya (cover) and Turkey (more) and details of the Libyan calendar as well as deep thoughts of Islam on eclipses. Pictures of the penumbral lunar eclipse on March 14/15: SpaceWeather, Weigand (the view at max. eclipse) and Gaehrken, Maslov. Why it was special: SC.
Update # 297 of Friday, April 21, 2006
Break-up of comet SW 3 continues; fast-paced developments /6 COSMIC satellites up! / Venus Express in perfect capture orbit! / Planet formation around pulsars? / First Stardust results / MRO in orbit / Shuttle launch slips / Dawn back! / ST5 up! / Hayabusa talks! / Falcon fails!

SW 3 fragment numbers reach "AM" (after passing "Z"); B fades after breakup

The rapid development is continuing: The discovery of numerous small fragmets of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (3) has brought the 'count' to "AM". Meanwhile the surge in brightness of fragment B is over and it may well disappear completely. The main fragment C, however, is still going strong and has been sighted in binoculars already: Now is a good time to look for it as the Moon is gone from the evening skies.

Posted earlier

Count already at "Y": Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 breaking up into more and more fragments

It's still one month til close approach to Earth and another one til perihelion - and no one call tell in which state periodic comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (3) will be when it will reach the peak of its current apparition: The comet's nucleus already split into at least 3 fragments in 1995, and by now those have further fragmented into well over a dozen pieces. And many of those do not live long: Some have already been lost by observers, others are disintegrating while we watch. The main fragment from 1995, named "C", is still alive and well and at 9.5 mag. already visible in small telescopes, but "B" - which suddenly reached the same brightness in early April - has since fragmented further and is now looking just like comet 1999 S4 (LINEAR) when it vanished in 2000 (see Updates # 198 story 2 and 199 header). It is still possible that at least fragment C will become visible to the naked eye in mid-May when it makes one of the closest approaches of a comet to Earth on record, but bright moonlight will interfere in any case: The SW3 experience of 2006 is predominantly one for photographic observers - and comet professionals who have never been able to witness a comet's break-up from such proximity.
All fragments, Updates from S&T, pictures of April 20: C. 19: B. 18: C and B. 16: B & C. 12: B. 9: B + G; also pictures with a large telescope and a big collection. Early March: conjunction of SW 3 and LONEOS pictures by Jäger & Rhemann and Guido & Sostero.
Maps for (various) current comets (another and another source), Science@NASA and coverage of April 17: SD. April 14: SC. April 13: isAN (with many links and pictures). March 28: BdW.

Comet Pojmanski delivered a nice show

in the March morning skies, with the visual magnitude peaking at 5 - pictures of March 24, March 8 by Karrer, Candy, Jäger & Rhemann and R&J, of March 7 by Guido and Candy, of March 6 by Guido, J&R and Holloway, of March 5 by Guido and Lawrence, of March 4 by Karrer and of March 3 by Schur, Block & GaBany and Holloway.

Six small Taiwanese satellite launched; hoped to revolutionize weather forecasts

The six COSMIC alias Formosat 3 satellites launched April 15 on a Minotaur are the first attempt to measure the vertical structure of the Earth's atmosphere in near-realtime and in so many parts of the world simultaneously that the data can be used to augment the traditional balloon measurements and to improve world-wide weather models. The spacecraft - a joint venture of the young Taiwanese space agency and the U.S. - simply observe the radio carrier provided continuously by the GPS satellites and measure the bending of the waves by the atmosphere with extreme precision: Computer models then deduce profiles of temperature and water vapor as a function of altitude. Such profiles will be produced some 3000 times every day - and evenly distributed over the globe. This method has been used more with other planets (starting with Mariner 4 at Mars in 1965) than with ours: It's time to get operational. (Science of April 7, 2006, p. 48-9)
Homepage, visuals, OSC and JPL Releases, the Status and coverage by CSM, Ast., SC (earlier), AFP, ST.

CloudSat/CALIPSO launch scrubbed

on April 21, less than 1 minute before lift-off - one satellite had lost communications with the control center: Status, NASA Releases of Apr. 21 and 2005, NwS (earlier), SC (earlier), ST. Cluster & Double Star in joint observations: ESA Release.

Venus Express slips into perfect initial orbit

First VMC, VIRTIS images delivered the next day!

A 51-minute burn of its main engine has pushed ESA's Venus Express into a good first elliptical orbit around the planet that had only had visitors from the U.S. and the Soviet Union before. At about 13:30 CEST on April 11 ground controllers at the European Spacecraft Operations Centre (ESOC) could confirm that the geometry of the initial orbit of Venus Express is matching expectations. The ground team were able to conclude this by analysing the data that the spacecraft has been sending down to Earth after the first communication link was established at 11:12 CEST. ESA's Cebreros ground station sent the spacecraft High-Gain antenna (HGA 2) receiver a sequence of tones: The time needed for the spacecraft to receive and then mirror these tones back to Earth, together with the precise measurements of the radio signal frequency change, provides point-by-point positioning and velocity of the spacecraft, and hence its trajectory.

The capture orbit is a long ellipse ranging from 350,000 kilometres at its furthest point from the planet (the apocenter) to less than 400 km at its closest (the pericenter, which is almost over the planets North pole). The spacecraft was to take nine days to travel this orbit, during which a few slots for preliminary scientific observations were available - pictures by the cameras VIRTIS and VMC of Venus' south polar clouds have already arrived. A series of further engine and thrusters burns will then be needed to gradually reduce the apocenter during the following 16 orbital loops around the planet. The final polar 24-hour orbit will be reached on 7 May 2006, and will range from 66,000 to 250 kilometres above Venus. A period of commissioning for the spacecraft and its instruments will then precede the official start of Venus Express scientific operations on 4 June this year.

ESA Releases of April 13 [alt.], April 11 (earlier), April 7, April 1, March 31, March 29 and March 27, plus even more, an MPG PM, a DLR article and coverage by Dsc., SN, BBC (earlier), NwS (earlier), RealClimate, G, SpN, PS (earlier), PSB (earlier), ST, AFP, viele deutsche Artikel. Earlier: CSM, WP, G, SC (earlier), TP, B, W. VAOP: ESA pages [all pages in one].
The state of Venus research as reported at two major conferences: AB, BBC. Progress for MESSENGER: Status.

NASA plans lunar impactor

as secondary payload of the LRO - LCROSS to crash in late 2008: Ames and NASA Releases, Science@NASA, AW&ST, SFG, HC, Dsc., CSM, NwS, SC, ST. Earlier: SpN.

Dusty disk found around pulsar - same as 'used' in planet making

The Spitzer Space Telescope has found emission from warm dust coming from the Vicinity of an old, slow (P=8 sec) pulsar - which closely resembles the dust found around young stars from which planets are likely to form. While no planets have been detected around this particular planet (which would be exceedingly difficult, given its long period), it is now more likely than ever that the planetary system found around another (millisecond) pulsar over a decade ago was actually born long after the supernova explosion that created the neutron star. Some supernova ejecta have been suspected of falling back towards the remains of the explosion for a while; now they have been found. And the discovery of the 10 Earth-mass disk also seems to indicate that planet formation is an extremely efficient process in the Universe, taking place about everywhere where some dust is left over. The planets around pulsars are not good places for life, though, being flodded with hard radiation. And the only source of light would probably be bright aurorae ... (NASA Telecon on April 5, 2006)
Nature paper, Spitzer and JPL Releases, Science@NASA, IR spectrum, NASA Release and coverage by Dsc., S&T, NG, SC, NwS, ST, AP. No dust in PSR planet system: paper by Bryden & al.

"Main-belt comets" in the solar system

Three cases found so far in the asteroid main belt - where they seem to have formed: paper by Hsieh & Jewitt (PDF; also one on water in small bodies), a U HI PR and coverage by NwS, Ast., WP, SC, ST, BdW and NZ.

Heated minerals in comet dust raise questions

The first major discovery made from the dust particles collected in the coma of comet Wild 2 and brought to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft (see Update # 295 story 2) is that at least the largest particles (which at some 10 µm are much larger than expected) contain minerals that were once extremely hot. The comet's nucleus formed at a temperature of about 30 Kelvin, yet some of the dust grains experienced temperatures of up to 1500 K! This means that they were either cooked in the vicinity of a star when they were interstellar grains or that they spent some time close to our Sun after being incorporated into the solar nebula - only to be expelled quickly into the outer reaches of the nebula for incorporation into the comet. Whichever is the answer (and upcoming isotope analysis should tell): One certainly cannot say anymore that comets are made of interstellar grains that were always cold. (NASA News Conference on March 13, 2006)
Univ. of WA, Argonne NL, Carnegie Inst. and NASA [JPL] Press Releases, Stardust News and coverage of March 17: BdW. March 16: SC. March 15: AB, G, Ast., AFP. March 14: S&T, WP, BBC, AD, HC, NwS, PSB, ST. March 13: PSB, Dsc., SC. March 10: WUStL Record. Genesis also a success - after all: BBC, NwS.

MRO aerobraking under way

On March 30 the MRO began a crucial six-month campaign to gradually shrink its orbit into the best geometry for the mission's science work. Three weeks after successfully entering orbit around Mars, the spacecraft is in a phase called "aerobraking." This process uses friction with the tenuous upper atmosphere to transform a very elongated 35-hour orbit to the nearly circular two-hour orbit needed for the mission's science observations. The orbiter had been flying about 426 km above Mars' surface at the nearest point of each loop since March 10, then swinging more than 43,000 km away before heading in again. While preparing for aerobraking, the flight team tested several instruments, obtaining the orbiter's first Mars pictures and demonstrating the ability of its Mars Climate Sounder instrument to track the atmosphere's dust, water vapor and temperatures. Then the MRO fired its intermediate thrusters for 58 seconds at the far point of the orbit: That maneuver lowered its altitude to 333 km when the spacecraft next passed the near point of its orbit.

Posted earlier

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in first Martian orbit; test images delivered

With a crucially timed firing of its main engines on March 10 NASA's new mission to Mars successfully put itself into orbit around the red planet. The spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will provide more science data than all previous Mars missions combined. Signals received from the spacecraft at 22:16 UTC after it emerged from its first pass behind Mars set off cheers and applause in control rooms at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. The spacecraft traveled about 500 million km to reach Mars after its launch from Florida on Aug. 12, 2005 (see Update # 291 story 4). It needed to use its main thrusters as it neared the planet in order to slow itself enough for Mars' gravity to capture it.

The thruster firing began while the spacecraft was still in radio contact with Earth, but needed to end during a tense half hour of radio silence while the spacecraft flew behind Mars. For the next half-year, the mission will use hundreds of carefully calculated dips into Mars' atmosphere in a process called "aerobraking." This will shrink its orbit from the elongated ellipse it is now flying, to a nearly circular two-hour orbit. For the mission's principal science phase, scheduled to begin in November, the desired orbit is a nearly circular loop ranging from 320 km to 255 km altitude, lower than any previous Mars orbiter. To go directly into such an orbit instead of using aerobraking, the mission would have needed to carry about 70 percent more fuel when it launched.

The first test images of Mars from the MRO soon provided a tantalizing preview of what the orbiter will reveal when its main science mission begins in fall. Three cameras were pointed at Mars on March 23/24 while the spacecraft collected 40 minutes of engineering test data; they are the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, Context Camera and Mars Color Imager. The images provide the first opportunity to test camera settings and the spacecraft's ability to point the camera with Mars filling the instruments field of view: The information learned will be used to prepare for the primary mission. The main purpose of these images is to enable the camera team to develop calibration and image-processing procedures such as the precise corrections needed for color imaging and for high-resolution surface measurements from stereo pairs of images.

MRO orbit insertion: Post-insertion pictures # 80... 68, 67, 61, 60, 54, 53, 52, 51, 50, 49, 48, 47, 30, 14 and 13, U of A PRs of Apr. 7 and Mar. 6, JPL and NASA Releases of Mar. 31, Mar. 24, Mar. 10 and Mar. 8, CNES, LockMart and IIT Press Releases, a PS Climate Sounder extra page, an Insertion Blog and coverage of April 18: PS. April 10: APOD, NwS. April 8: SC. April 7: PS. April 5: NwS. April 4: SC. April 3: PS. March 28: SC. March 27: PS. March 25: S&T, BBC, ST, NZ. March 24: Dsc., NwS, SC. March 22: FT. March 21: SC. March 11: AB, WP. March 10: SN, PS (more), NwS, S&T, BBC, G, FT, SC (earlier), PSB, SR, ST. March 9: Dsc., AB, ST. March 8: PS, SC, PSB. March 6: WP.

MER Update - Spirit has reached a safe site for the Martian winter, while its twin, Opportunity, is making fast progress toward a destination of its own. NASA & JPL Releases of Apr. 13, April 12 and March 17, UC Davis PR, pictures # 80... 84, 65, 64, 63, 39, 38, 26... 95, 90, 89, 88, 87 and 86 and coverage of April 10: NwS. April 6: PSB. April 5: SD. April 3: NwS. March 21: ST. March 20: NwS. March 18: BBC. March 17: SC. March 16: PS and Nature Blogs, Dsc.
Odyssey data distributed via Google: ASU and JPL Releases, SD, pictures 28... 95, 94, 93, 92, 91, PS. Phoenix plans: SC.

Mars Express OMEGA results published, 'frozen lake' claim challenged again: ESA Releases of April 20 and April 10, Brown PR and coverage of April 21: CSM, PSB, HC. April 20: Dsc., NwS, NG, BBC, SC. March 16: NwS. March 15: Nature Blog, S&T. ExoMars upgrade? BBC. MSRM planning in Europe: ESA Release.
New 'Mars bacteria' speculations, this time re. Nakhla: Oregon SU PR, SC, BdW. ALH 84001 revisited: Carnegie PR. Gullies w/o water? U of A PR [SR], SC. Early magma ocean: PSRD.

Future direction of manned space exploration debated not only in the West but also in Russia, perhaps even China

It's not just the U.S. where the future direction of space exploration - and especially the pros and cons of launching a new, very expensive drive to return astronauts to the Moon - is being debated fiercely, 25 years after the launch of the 1st Space Shuttle (April 12, 1981): Similar questions about the right way to proceed are apparently also being pondered in Russia 45 years after Gagarin's flight (April 12, 1961), and even China could be in the process of revising its manned space ambitions. Both Eastern countries apparently are not so sure anymore whether big manned stations in Earth orbit are worth the effort, given the determination of the U.S. to basically get rid of the ISS as soon as politically possible which has cost some $50 billion so far and is still only 40% finished. Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, for example, the leading Russian manufacturer of spacecraft, is calling for the construction of a manned space station in orbit around the Moon (with occasional sorties to the surface) as a desirable vision for the next 25 years, to be connected to the ISS by new reusable spacecraft.

Even further into the future a "permanent lunar industrial base for developing the Earth's satellite" is proposed, followed after some decades by similar construction work on Mars. Energia also hopes to see the Soyuz successor Kliper fly in 2015 and first expeditions to Mars in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe - all those visions depending, of course, on approval by the Russian space agency and ample funding. More specific reasons for the proposals (other that they sound cool) would then be needed. Meanwhile it seems apparent that China has dropped initial plans to construct a major manned station in Earth orbit and is looking for new destinations for its Shenzhou spacecraft. Flights around the Moon could well be moved forward: They are technically far less challenging than landings but would make quite an impact with the world - and could be possible by 2012 or 2014. Already many U.S. politicians feel that they are in yet another race to the Moon, this time with the Chinese - which tend to reveal about as much about their real intentions (if they know them themselves) as the Soviets did 40 years ago...

Posted in March

Next shuttle launch slips to July window after ECO trouble reappears

One could see it coming if one had followed the preparations for the last shuttle flight closely: When Discovery launched in July 2005, there was a basically unsolved problem left with the Engine Cut-Off (ECO) sensors in the main tank (see Update # 290 story 3 July 28 item) that NASA promised to deal with after the mission. The trouble with the unsolved foam shedding completely shadowed the earlier problem for months, and it was not discussed at all - but now it has come back to haunt the program. During testing, one of the four ECO sensors had a slightly different reading than is expected, and shuttle officials have decided they will remove and replace all four liquid hydrogen sensors on the External Tank to be used in the coming mission STS-121. Since that operation takes three weeks, the May window (which had already shrunk to May 10 to 22) is gone. Now the target launch window is July 1 to 19.
NASA Releases of Apr. 10, Mar. 22, Mar. 17, Mar. 14 and Mar. 9, Cleave letter to the community, ESA, EADS, Univ. Leicester, ACSM and Space Adv. Press Releases (earlier), S@N, an Open Letter to Griffin, the latter's statements from Apr. 6 and Mar. 30 and the Review of Goals and Plans for NASA's Space and Earth Sciences by NAS.
Coverage of Apr. 21: AW&ST, SC, BBC. Apr. 20: Bloo., ST. Apr. 19: Novosti, NwS, G, SC. Apr. 18: NwS, ST. Apr. 17: SN, SC, SpR (another essay). Apr. 16: FT. Apr. 14: SC. Apr. 13: FT, Novosti, SN, SD. Apr. 12: FT (more, SC, OpEd), SC. Apr. 10: G, SpRev. Apr. 9: BBC, SZ. Apr. 8: SN, ST. Apr. 6: Z. Apr. 5: NwS, SC. Apr. 4: FT, SC. Apr. 3: SN, NwS, SC, ST. Apr. 2: WP. Apr. 1: FT, BBC, SC, ST. March 31: SN, SC. March 30: BBC, NwS, ST. March 29: Slate, FT, SC (other story), SN. March 28: FT, SN, SD. March 27: Space News, CT, SpR, ST. March 26: FT, NN, ST. March 25: HC, Yomiuri. March 24: FT, ST. March 23: HC, ST. March 22: ARRL, HC. March 20: SN, ST. March 18: FT, ST. March 17: FT. March 16: TechRev, Nature Blog, SC. March 14: SN, HC, BBC, Ast., SC (other story), SR, PS and Nature Blogs, FT Blog, ST. March 13: SpR, TP. March 9: FT. March 8: S&T, SN, FT, ST. March 7: SN. March 6: AW&ST, AD, New Yorker, SN, NwS, SpR, SC (other story).

Saturn Update

JPL/NASA Releases of Apr. 19, March 29 and March 9 [JPL, SSI], U. Colorado PRs of Apr. 6 and March 16, RAS (another one), PPARC, Cornell, MPG (ein anderer) [Engl.], AI Jena, Uni Potsdam and Uni Köln Press Releases, S@N, raw image # 56254, archived pictures # 81... 61, 60, 59, 58, 57, 56, 55, 54, 53, 52, 51, 50, 49, 48, 47, 46, 44, 43, 42, 41, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33 32, 31, 30, 29, 28 and 27, 80... 36, 78... 01 and 00, 77... 99, 98, 94 and 93.
Coverage of April 6: BBC. April 3: SC. March 31: NG. March 30: Dsc., BdW. March 29: NwS, SC. March 27: CSM. March 24: Dsc., NwS. March 18: BBC. March 17: Ast., PSB, BdW. March 16: NwS, SC. March 15: PSB. March 14: SC. March 11: BdW. March 10: S&T, BBC, HC, FT, G, NwS, CSM, ST. March 9: SN, Dsc., PS, SC, PSB. March 7: Ast. March 6: PSB.
Cassinis 'best maps of Jupiter' have been created: pictures # 77... 84, 83 and 82 and coverage by BBC and PSB. Jovian aurora mechanisms: NwS. Europa chemistry: PNNL PR. Bugs from Europa? PSB.

Akari prepares for X-ray science

Progress for the Japanese satellite; major events for the post-launch phase have been successfully completed, with the cover of the observation equipment, the telescope, being removed: JAXA Release, AP.

Dawn is back!

NASA has reversed the cancellation of the asteroid mission (see last Update lead), but it'll remain tough: NASA, DLR and MPS Releases, Early Light (also the status and s/c pix), SR, PS, SN, PSB (earlier), BBC, HC, Dsc., NwS, FT. SC, ST, RP, NZ. Earlier: NwS, SC, AP. Still earlier: SR, PSB, Dsc.

Proposals to re-use the Deep Impact and Stardust motherships for future comet adventures will be submitted for NASA's Discovery Program: UMD PR, RMN, AW&ST, NwS.

ST5 launched - three small satellites

were launched on a Pegasus; they are designed to test a number of spacecraft technologies while performing measurements of the Earth's magnetosphere: Homepage, Status, NASA, JHU, Orbital and ATK Press Releases and coverage of March 23: FT. March 22: SN, NwS, SC, ST. March 15: SC, ST. March 14: NwS, ST. Earlier: SC.

Communications with Hayabusa reestabished!

But it isn't clear yet how much the spacecraft has suffered and when a return trip to Earth may begin: Status [alt., SR], Japanese Blog, PS Press Release, PS, NwS, PSB, Nature Blog, AP. Further Hayabusa results - the asteroid seems to be very young: AW&ST, PSB, BBC, NwS, ST, BdW.

SMART-1 deorbit planning under way, impact now expected around Sep. 3: SSC PR, PSB, SC. Reiner Gamma: ESA Release. De Gasparis: ESA Release.

Little correction for New Horizons; passes Mars orbit: Updates of Apr. 7 and March 29, 20 and 9, SC (earlier). Pluto moons have all same color: HST and JHU Press Releases, NwS, SC, BdW.

Yet another size measurement of 2003 UB313

is based on a fuzzy HST image - it would make it only slightly larger than Pluto, but the situation is far more complex [SR] than the press releases or news stories would make you believe: a paper by Brown & al., HST and Caltech Releases, PS, NwS, ScN, SC, ST, BdW. Insights about 2003 EL61: S&T. The Kuiper Belt & Comets: an 80 pg. paper (PDF).

First Falcon fails, falls fast

Just 41 seconds after lift-off on March 24, the first rocket launched by the much-hyped start-up company Space X splashed into the ocean - the cause is said to be human error, not a basic design flaw: Official and independent Updates, Space X Releases of March 25 and Jan. 10 and coverage of Apr. 7: ST. Apr. 6: RMN, SC. Apr. 3: SpR. Mar. 28: Nature. Mar. 27: BBC, NwS, SpR. Mar. 26: SC, ST, NZ. Mar. 25: SN. Mar. 24: SN, BBC, SR, FT, SC, Bloo, ST. Mar. 22: ST. Feb. 10: SC. DART report won't be released: NASA Watch.

Eclipsing Brown Dwarf pair answers many questions

Such as the diameters, masses and relative temperatures of the substars - and the latter fly in the face of expectations: HST, U. Wisc., Gemini and Vanderbilt Press Releases, NwS. 2nd-closest Brown Dwarf found: ESO, UA and MPIA Press Releases, SC.

Another exo-Neptune caught by µ-lensing event - and these kinds of planets with a dozen Earth-masses or so could be pretty frequent: a paper by Gould & al., a CfA and OSU Press Releases and coverage by BBC, Dsc., NwS, SC, NZ.

Next solar cycle higher & later?

At least that's what one model says - others disagree: UCAR Press Release [NASA], illustrations, S&T, SFG, Dsc., CSM, NwS, SC, Denver P., ST. Minimum is here: S@N. Backside of the Sun reconstructed completely: Stanford, ESA and NASA Press Releases, details.

Results from the first three years of WMAP

have been published - the inflationary model looks stronger than ever now: lots of data & papers, a NASA Press Release and coverage by S&T, Cornell Chr., ScN, NwS, ScNow, Dsc., WP, CSM, SC, G, Ast., ST, BdW and TP. Sterile neutrino speculations: MPG PR [Deutsch], NwS.
  • MetOp satellite shipped to Baikonur - the first MetOp meteorological satellite arrived at its launch site on Apr. 18: ESA Release. CryoSat recovery mission confirmed for 2009: CNES.
  • MSX 10 years in orbit - the Midcourse Space Experiment, originally a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) experiment, has been used for a lot of astronomy: USAF. Corot to launch in October: SD.
  • Russian satellite damaged by impact? It could have been space debris or a meteoroid: RSSC Press Release (earlier), NwS, SC, SD, ST.
  • Did the U.S. test a military spaceplane? The evidence is shaky - and already under flak - but fascinating: AW&ST, SpaceRev, MSNBC, ST.
  • GIOVE-B launch shifted to September with new role for Galileo test sat: FI, BBC.
  • Jupiter's new red spot coverage by S&T, NwS, BBC.
  • Optical SETI telescope starts search for alien laser messages: PS PR, S&T, CSM, BBC.

Have you read the the previous issue?!
All other historical issues can be found in the Archive.
Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer