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The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer, Germany
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The Sky in February 2008
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Feb.4/5: broadcasting music to the stars - and reigniting the Active SETI debate. And why don't they talk to us? World's premier scientists continue to look for life beyond Earth: ABC News.
Update # 311 of Sunday, February 17, 2008
Decaying U.S. satellite to be blown up! / Solar system "analog" (minus Earth et al.) found with microlensing / NASA FY'09 budget request holds science promises

Missile attack on out-of-control U.S. satellite authorized!

Three Aegis missiles have been reprogrammed to intercept USA 193 just before it reenters anyway / Objective is destruction of hydrazine tank which would survive but leak / Little debris to be left in orbit, most to fall into an ocean

Three Standard 3 missiles will be ready on three Aegis vessels some time within a week: One will be fired at the experimental NRO satellite USA 193 that does not respond to commands, then the outcome of the engagement will be analyzed, and if need be two more missiles could be fired within the following two days. That's the essence of a DoD briefing on Feb. 14 at 19:30 UTC that followed three weeks of preparations. The central objective is to blow up the hydrazine tank of the satellite as models show that it would survive to the ground but leak the toxic fuel into the environment. According to the DoD it would also be nice to have the "5000 pound" (now we know!) spacecraft in several pieces instead of one. Getting rid of classified technology is not the driver, we are assured, as it would melt beyond recognition anyway. The engagement will take place just before USA 193 would reenter anyway: Thus as little debris as possible will remain in orbit, endangering other spacecraft.
Briefing details via Cosmos 4 U (earlier, still earlier), and a DoD Press Release and a briefing transcript.
Coverage by AW&ST (earlier), CNN (earlier), ABCB (earlier), OS, SN (earlier), MSNBC, SC (earlier), AJC, OmahaWH, MSNBC, FT, Dsc., Wired (earlier), BBC, NYT (earlier, B, OpEd), ScAm, WP, CNN, T, AFP (earlier), AP, AFT, PopMech, UT, NwS (earlier), SCB, GLB, PSB, ST (earlier), SpW.
Before the briefing: WP, NYT, BAB, AW&ST, ST.

First microlensing discovery of a planetary system - again involving amateur astronomers

Two detected planets have roughly Jupiter and Saturn masses / Orbits also comparable / Sorry, no Earth yet ...

Searches for extrasolar planets have uncovered an astonishing diversity of planetary systems, yet the frequency of solar system analogs remains unknown. The gravitational microlensing planet search method is potentially sensitive to multiple-planet systems containing analogs of all the solar system planets except Mercury. Astronomers from several microlensing searches - involving amateur astronomers to further improve the joint light curve - now report the detection of a multiple-planet system withr microlensing! They identify two planets with masses of ~0.71 and ~0.27 times the mass of Jupiter and orbital separations of ~2.3 and ~4.6 AU orbiting a primary star of mass ~0.50 solar masses at a distance of ~1.5 kpc. This system resembles a scaled version of our solar system in that the mass ratio, separation ratio, and equilibrium temperatures of the planets are similar to those of Jupiter and Saturn. These planets could not have been detected with other techniques; their discovery from only six (!) confirmed microlensing planet detections suggests that solar system analogs may be common!
The Science paper as a Preprint, OSU, STFC, ND, LLNL, Dartm. and NSF Releases and coverage by PW, NYT (earlier), SC, WP, NwS, Metro UK, SkM, CtD, UT, ST.

Methane present in an extrasolar planet atmosphere

A near-infrared transmission spectrum of the planet HD 189733b shows the presence of methane; additionally, a resolved water-vapour band at 1.9 microns confirms the recent claim of water in this object: paper by Swain & al., NwS. Rocky planets common? JPL, UA Releases, BBC, SC. Jupiter twin: paper by Wright & al., BAB.

Details of seven(!) science new starts planned by NASA explained

At a telecon NASA science managers have provided further details about the State of Science at NASA, so to speak: This budget (request) is "unlike any in recent memory," says Alan Stern: Not only are the seven new starts of missions more than in the last 3 years combined, there are also significant increases of data analysis money etcl. in the plan, "essentially repairing all the cuts" of recent years or even improving on earlier values. The new starts are two Earth science missions and the
  • Joint Dark Energy Mission which was rated very highly by independent reviews in astronomy; a
  • Solar Probe flying several times through the solar corona; an
  • Outer Planets Flagship mission most likely together w/international partners, esp. ESA and individual nations (three destinations are in the running, only a mission to Enceladus is gone; further downselection later this year); and two
  • Small lunar missions, first an orbiter in 2011 (to be launched together with GRAIL), then two landers launching together on the same rocket in 2013 or 14 (those will go to the lunar N and S poles, forming the "U.S. anchors" of an International Lunar Network of 8 to 10 stations). There is also a
  • Mars Sample Return Mission in the 2020 timeframe that does not count as a full "new start" as not much money is to be invested in the next few years - first there will be many 'architecture studies'. The MSRM comes with an absolute budget cap of 3.3 billions of todays dollars for the U.S. contribution, but international partners are welcome.
The Mars Sample Return Mission (which together with international money could end up at a total of 4.5 billion dollars) can only be attacked in earnest when the Outer Planets mission has been paid for: More than one of these multi-billion dollar monsters cannot be afforded at one time. Getting the Outer Planets project going will involve a lot of tricky negotiations with the (all but essential) international partners: ESA e.g. has its own ideas and priorities in the outer solar system ...

Posted a few hours earlier

NASA FY'09 budget request: 1.8% increase, Orion in 2015 - and lots of new science in the next decade

Small lunar landers and an orbiter, mars sample return preparations, an outer planets flagship and a Dark Energy mission in the plans - soundness of overall strategy promptly questioned in Congress ...

The NASA FY 2009 budget request for NASA - presented on Feb. 4 - is $17.6 billion, a 1.8 percent increase over the FY2008 enacted budget, along with a steady, five-year runout that includes an increase each year of around 2.4 percent. W.r.t. the manned program it was stated: "With full funding for Orion and Ares I provided by the Congress this year and the budget currently projected to be available for NASA, our best estimates still maintain an initial operational capability for the Orion and Ares I of March 2015. NASA will again need its full funding request this year in order to maintain that schedule, though the Constellation team strives to bring the Orion and Ares I on-line sooner." So far, the direction of the program will not change (but there's a certain election this year).

If the '09 budget ends up in the proposed arena, science - with a budget of $4.44 billion that includes Earth observation, the solar system and astronomy - seems to be in for some new adventures: "The Science Mission Directorate has an exciting budget request that initiates seven new missions - put in perspective, this is more than in the previous three SMD budgets combined. [...] NASA's science and exploration mission directorates are working together to develop two small lunar landers, and SMD is initiating a series of new and exciting missions heading to the moon over the next decade, like the LADEE small orbiter to characterize the atmosphere and lunar dust environment. This year, we are especially looking forward to the launch of India.s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which includes two NASA payloads, as well as the launch of NASA.s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCROSS secondary payload.

For Mars, we are focusing much of our efforts after 2013 to carry out a sample return mission to launch by 2020. In planetary science, the FY 2009 budget also initiates development of a flagship outer planets mission, which we hope will include significant international collaboration. In astrophysics, we are initiating the Joint Dark Energy Mission, the highest priority among astrophysicists, and in heliophysics we are initiating Solar Probe Plus, a high priority heliophysics mission, starting in FY 2009." JDEM will fly in the middle of the next decade and won't get much next year, but full funding is foreseen in the funding wedge for subsequent years. Is all well now? Not to House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon for whom "science programs face an uncertain future as funds are shuffled from one science account to the next in order to free up funds for proposed new initiatives. While those new initiatives may be laudable, the ability to sustain them under the Administration's proposed budget plan is open to question."

NASA Budget documentation, in particular a summary of the FY'09 request and some explanations [in HTML], science details, a Stern letter [alt.], key numbers, NASA and OSTP Releases. Plus a VSE-critical statement.
Responses from Gordon, Hall, IFPTE, Braun and Friedman. Plus a Plan. Soc statement and a Press Release after a space exploration workshop and Udall, Gordon and and Griffin statements at a Feb. 13 hearing.
Coverage (also of U.S. space politics in general as well as a new British space policy) of Feb. 15: SFG, StanfD, NYT, NwS. Feb. 14: Dsc., BBC, FTB, NW, NaB, SpP (other story, BAB. Feb. 13: NW, NswB, FTB, BAB. Feb. 12: FYI, NYT, SpP, Sp. Feb. 11: FYI, BAB. Feb. 9: SciNews. Feb. 8: WN, SpP. Feb. 7: PS. Feb. 6: WP, Rtr [MSNBC], NW. Feb. 5: NwS (more), FT, SFG, WP, OS, SpP, PSB, ST. Feb. 4: SN, PS, AD, MSNBC, SJMN, HC, AP, BAB, NW, SpP.

ISS, STS etc.

Columbus has been delivered to the station, Atlantis to depart tomorrow. Mission status (in English; stalled), a DLR Blog (in German) an ESA Blog in English and German (stalled; this is the last post), still more - less frequent - updates in English and German and numerous TV broadcasts (in German).
STS-122 launch pix, launch video stills, DLR and ESA mission galleries, a timelapse video and stills of the Columbus installation, Schlegel in action, NASA Releases of Feb. 12 and Feb. 7, ESA Releases of Feb. 15, Feb. 14, Feb. 13 (other topic), Feb. 12, Feb. 11 (earlier, other release), Feb. 10, Feb. 9, Feb. 7 (earlier) and Feb. 6, House Science and Boeing Releases, DLR PMn vom 9., 7. (mehr) und 6. Feb., DBU, Hohenheim, BTU und Fraunhofer PMn., a Merkel speech (audio) - and a DOJ Release on shuttle espionage suspicions.
Coverage of Feb. 17: SC (B), NPR. Feb. 16: SN, SC (B), ST, We, FTD. Feb. 15: SN (earlier), BBC, DW, SC (other story), ABCB. Feb. 14: UT, SC (other story), ST, W, DPA. Feb. 13: SN, CNNB, ABCB, ST, W (andere Story). Feb. 12: WP, AD, SN (earlier), SC (earlier), NYT, NaB, ST, W (frueher). Feb. 11: SN (earlier, still earlier), BBC (other story), SC (earlier), ABC (more), NaB, Scotsman, SpR, SpN, SCB, DPA, W, FAZ. Feb. 10: SN (other and earlier story), SC (earlier), NYT, BBC, NZ, Sp., CENAP. Feb. 9: SN (earlier, still earlier), FTB, SC (earlier), ABC, AFP, DscB, UT, C4U, ST, W. Feb. 8: SN (earlier), SC (earlier), G, ABC, NYT, NaB, TP, DPA. Feb. 7: SN (plus Griffin interview), PW, SC (earlier, still earlier, even earlier), PS, IO9, CLB, ST (earlier), TP. Feb. 6: BBC (other, earlier stories), CSM, SC (earlier), OS, NYT, AFP, IO9, Nature, ST. Feb. 5: SN, SC (other story), FT, ST. Feb. 4: SN (more), SC, SpN, FTB, FG, SpR, SpP, DPA.
HST SM launch date set to August 28: ISS manifest, Feb 14 NASA Release.

Mars Update

Mars Express ESA Releases of Feb. 15 and Feb. 5 (and a PSB on finding Mars pix in general) and coverage of Feb. 14: SC. Feb. 6: IO9. MER JPL Release of Feb. 15, pictures # 102... 39 and 38 and coverage of Feb. 17: NG, Scotsm., ST. Feb. 16: UT. Feb. 15: CL, BBC, SC, BAB. Feb. 12: PSB. Feb. 6: Toledo Blade. MRO picture of dunes. MSL heat shield problem, rover details: AD, IO9. And later Tumbleweed? ExoMars (to be renamed!) coverage of Feb. 11: NaB. Feb. 8: BBC.

Saturn Update

ESA Release of Feb. 13, JPL Releases/Features of Feb. 13, Feb. 7 and Feb. 5, MPG PM vom 7. Feb., Uni Potsdam PM vom 7. Feb., Cassini images # 98... 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, 30, 29 and coverage of Feb. 15: BdW, DPA. Feb. 14: Dsc., TP, W. Feb. 13: SC, UT. Feb. 8: SC, BdW. Feb. 6: AFP.

Another 'most distant galaxy' - without a redshift

The HST has found the strongest evidence so far for a galaxy with a redshift significantly above 7. It is likely to be one of the youngest and brightest galaxies ever seen right after the cosmic 'dark ages', just 700 million years after the beginning of our Universe: conference abstract, HST and UCSC Releases, SC, BAB, KL, W, DPA. Topology of space: ObsPM PR.

Magellanic Clouds connected to the Milky Way

by a gassy 'finger' called HVC306-2+230 which is running into the starry disk of our Galaxy about 21 kpc away from us: CSIRO Release, SC. Galaxy w/o Dark Matter: NwS. Dark matter signal in CMB? PW.

Cepheid light echo used for geometric distance

Yet another way to improve the reliability of the 'distance ladder' throughout the Universe: ESO Release, APOD, S&T, Dsc., UT, StS.

Sun-like star flips field - just like our Sun does: IfA Release.

Possible progenitor of a type Ia supernova found for the 1st time, SN 2007on: Chandra PR, MPG PM, UT, KL.

Antarctic high site tested for astronomy

A robotic observatory installed at a high-altitude site in Antarctica, Dome A, will search for planets orbiting other stars and test the site's potential for more ambitious observatories that could follow: diary, Texas A&M PR, NwS, SC. Extreme eclipse chasing in Antarctica: C4U (earlier). Gemini reprieve for UK astronomers: RAS PR, BBC, SpW, UT, NwSB. ALMA: NRAO PR.

NASA sponsors studies of next generation astronomy missions

NASA has selected 19 science teams to conduct yearlong studies of new concepts for its next generation of major observatories - the studies will help make decisions, following the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey: NASA, MIT and STScI Releases.

Herschel ESA Releases of Feb. 8 and Feb. 1, BAB. GLAST wants a name: S@N.

Spitzer image of the Rho Oph star forming region (NaB, MSNBC, BAB).

HST image of NGC 1132 [STScI] (BAB, MSNBC).

Deep Impact Begins Hunt for Alien Worlds

The Deep Impact spacecraft is aiming its largest telescope at five stars in a search for exosolar planets as it enters its extended mission, called EPOXI: NASA Release, BaltSun, SC.

MESSENGER updates of Feb. 14 and Feb. 6 and coverage of Feb. 15: PSB. Feb. 6: Rep. Feb. 5: Brown Daily Herald, Portsm.N. Feb. 4: JHU Gaz., ColorD, SC. Sodium tail imaged from Earth: BU Release, BdW. Meteorites from Mercury? S&T.

Venus Express ESA Release of Feb. 4 [alt.].

Stardust analysis going on: Manchester PR. Big Antarctic meteorite studied: BGR PM, Sp., DPA.

Iran shoots a 2nd sounding rocket into space - now strange report that it put a satellite into a low orbit ...

As last year the flight was first thought to be suborbital at best (with a payload named Kavoshgar) - but after two weeks Iran is suddenly talking about a spacecraft in orbit, sending data. Or is this all just a misunderstanding or bad translation? In any case - and just as many years ago - there is now talk of launching a satellite on a domestic rocket to a much higher orbit, this time 2009 under the name Ormid (and no fewer than five by 2010): Press TV, AP, AFP. Earlier: Press TV, IRNA (more), launch video, Debka, G, BBC, CNN, NYT, AFP (earlier), Nov., ST, Sp.
  • Least massive circumstellar disk found at FN Tau: NAOJ PR, BAB, BdW. BP Psc explained? NwS.
  • Another dark matter non-detection reported from an underground experiment: FNAL PR.
  • Bigelow wants Atlas 5's for his inflatable space station: Press Release, SC, ST.

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