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The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer, Germany
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The Sky in March 2008
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Arthur C. Clarke, SF author and visionary, dead at 90
He died in the night March 18/19 in Sri Lanka: Find numerous obituaries and other interesting material linked from C4U of Mar. 18 and esp. Mar. 19 and Mar. 20 as well an in additional coverage by SWIFT, SFG, Global Voices, Boston Globe, Wired, Tribune India, Virg.Pilot, Times (earlier, later), Sri Lanka DN (more), SciAm, IHT, LDP, InfW, PE, SatCom, IO9, RIA, ScDude, Bloomberg, RC, ScBlogs, W (früher), TAZ, FAZ und CENAP (mehr).
Satellite "engaged" and hit on Feb. 21; shattered into little pieces most of which have decayed. DoD Releases of Feb. 25, Feb. 24, Feb. 21 (earlier, still earlier, even earlier), Feb. 20 (earlier) and Feb. 19, Raytheon, USAF and ATK Releases, DoD briefing transcripts of Feb. 25, Feb. 21 (earlier) and Feb. 20, the Feb. 14 version of the gov. communications plan and coverage of Mar. 20: NaB. Mar. 19: Rtr, SC. Mar. 17: SpR (debate ends here, by the way). Mar. 14: CSM. Mar. 11: FP. Mar. 10: SpR (more). Mar. 9: JSR. Mar. 3: SpR, UT. Mar. 2: C4U, PD, Omaha WH. Feb. 29: CL, SCB, SatTrack. Feb. 28: SC, LR, ST. Feb. 27: MSNBC, FTB, TP. Feb. 26: WP, HE, ST. Feb. 25: C4U, USN&WR, Phil, CNN, ABCB, NaB, NYTB. Feb. 22: G&M, WP, SFG, Sc, RMN, IHT, NYT (more). Feb. 21: C4U, AD, NYT (earlier, OpEd, B), WP, ABC, BBC (earlier, other and another story), LAT, CNN (earlier), PW, SN, SC (other and another) story, ScN, CL, KSJ, AP [alt.], X, Hon.Adv, WP, NW, NPR, UT, BAB, ScAmB, IO9, ST, TP, W (früher, Sidebar), Sp., KL, CENAP. Feb. 20: SC (other and another story), AFP, LAT, NYT (B), AFP, C4U, AP, DM, ABC, NG, Rtr., PopSci, BBC (other story), NPR, Nov., WP, NoH, NwSB, PrA, W. Feb. 19: PH33, AP, C4U, G&M [alt.], Reg., NYT, SC (B), ST. Feb. 18: C4U, Reg., Age, WPR, NW, CNN.
Update # 312 of Friday, March 21, 2008
Organic molecule in exoplanet atmosphere / 5 years of WMAP data analyzed / Ulysses' mission coming to an end

Hubble finds first organic molecule - methane - on an exoplanet

The HST has made the first detection ever of an organic molecule in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting another star. This breakthrough is being hailed as an important step in eventually identifying signs of life on a planet outside our solar system. The molecule found by Hubble is methane, which under the right circumstances can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry. This discovery proves that Hubble and upcoming space missions, such as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, can detect organic molecules on planets around other stars by using spectroscopy. The planet now known to have methane and water is located 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. Called HD 189733b, the planet is so massive and so hot it is considered an unlikely host for life.

HD 189733b, dubbed a "hot Jupiter," is so close to its parent star it takes just over two days to complete an orbit. These objects are the size of Jupiter but orbit closer to their stars than the tiny innermost planet Mercury in our solar system. The observations were made as the planet HD 189733b passed in front of its parent star in what astronomers call a transit. As the light from the star passed briefly through the atmosphere along the edge of the planet, the gases in the atmosphere imprinted their unique signatures on the starlight from the star HD 189733. The astronomers were surprised to find that the planet has more methane than predicted by conventional models for "hot Jupiters." (By the way: This story isn't really news as it was already mentioned in the last issue in a sidebar of the 2nd story - the Preprint lacked the usual plea not to discuss a Nature paper in press which The Cosmic Mirror has always honored even when others didn't.)

HST, ESA HST [alt.] and JPL Releases and coverage by KSJ, PS, NYT, LAT, FT, BBC, VoA, SMH, W, SC, NaB, PrA, CNNB, SkM, SWr, BAB, UT, ST, DPA, BdW.

First step of Earth-like planet formation observed

A protoplanetary ring around the binary star KH 15D is composed of solid particles larger than what is usually observed in space: Wesleyan and Rice Releases, NYT. Spitzer finds organics and water where new planets may grow: Spitzer PR [JPL]. Water vapor in protoplanetary disk: Caltech PR, SWr.

Five years of WMAP data: standard - and weird - view of Universe confirmed, some details clearer

Last time we heard from the WMAP cosmology mission was when the 3-year dataset and its analysis were published: Now measurements covering 5 years are out and not unexpectedly the basic insights into the make-up of our Universe have been confirmed with even more stringent limits. Some new details are also emerging, including the best evidence yet that a sea of neutrinos permeates the Universe. The so-called "cosmic neutrino background" is a fossil from very early times. They originated when enormous numbers of matter and antimatter particles annihilated one another. Cosmic neutrinos once existed in such huge numbers that they actually affected the Universe's early expansion, which in turn influenced the microwaves that WMAP observes. The energy of these neutrinos is a million times lower than can be seen by existing neutrino detectors on Earth. The satellite measurements reflecting the traces of the mysterious particles also match precision measurements of neutrino properties made by particle colliders that simulate conditions present at the dawn of the universe. For the first time, evidence for the sea of cosmic neutrinos now comes from the ancient cosmic light as well.

The new WMAP data also provide crucial insights into the end of the "dark ages," when the first generation of stars began to shine. The glow from these stars ionized the surrounding gas, creating a thin fog of electrons that scatter microwaves, in much the same way that fog scatters the beams from a car's headlights. We now have evidence that the creation of this fog must have been a drawn-out process, starting when the Universe was about 400 million years old and lasting for about half a billion years. The results also are providing the best data yet for examining the astonishing burst of growth in the first trillionth of a second of the universe, when ripples in space itself may have been created. The WMAP results also show that the universe is growing colder and darker. Atoms now make up 4.6 percent of the current universe, dark matter makes up 23 percent and dark energy makes up 72 percent. The microwaves that WMAP sees come from when the universe was only 380,000 years old, when atoms made up 12 percent of the universe, dark matter made up 63 percent, photons made up 15 percent, neutrinos made up 10 percent and the dark energy was negligible.

NASA [alt.] and Princeton Press Releases and coverage by C4U (with further early links) and S&T, PW, CV, Str, BAB, NYT, SC, NwS, BBC, AT, Phr and KL.

67 new gravitational lenses

Astronomers using the HST have compiled a large catalog of gravitational lenses in the distant universe which contains 67 new gravitationally lensed galaxy images found around massive elliptical and lenticular-shaped galaxies: HST Release, Dsc., SC, BAB.
The claimed z=7.6 galaxy: here now a paper. Also: JHU Gazette, TP. Amino acid ingredients in Arp 220: AB. Largest ever DM structure: UBC and CFHT Releases, Dsc., NwS, BdW. Turok Q&A: Wired.
Disagreement over the cosmic ray energy cutoff - a summary of new results from the High Resolution Fly's Eye Collaboration (HiRes): Utah PR, Ars Technica. Crystal bells stay silent as physicists look for dark matter: FNAL, Caltech and Stanford Releases, CV, BAB. Standard Model wins again: NaB. Mesons could offer new clue in antimatter mystery: PW, NwS (earlier), PP, TP.

After 17 years, the Ulysses mission is coming to an end

The joint NASA and European Space Agency Ulysses mission to study the sun and its influence on surrounding space is likely to cease operations in the next few months. The venerable spacecraft, which has lasted more than 17 years or almost four times its expected mission lifetime, is succumbing to the harsh environment of space. Ulysses was the first mission to survey the space environment above and below the poles of the sun. The reams of data Ulysses returned have forever changed the way scientists view our star and its effects. Since its Jupiter flyby in 1992, Ulysses has been in a six-year orbit around the sun. Its long path through space carries it out to Jupiter's orbit and back. The farther it ventures from the sun, the colder the spacecraft becomes and eventually its hydrazine fuel will freeze. This has not been a problem in the past because Ulysses carries heaters to maintain a workable onboard temperature. The spacecraft is powered by the decay of a radioactive isotope. Over its 17-plus years, the power has been steadily dropping. The spacecraft no longer can run all of its communications, heating and scientific equipment simultaneously.

The project team approved a plan to temporarily shut off the main spacecraft's X- band transmitter. This would release 60 watts of power, which could be channeled to the science instruments and the heater. The team planned to turn the transmitter back on when data was to be transmitted back to Earth. This would have made it possible to run Ulysses for up to another two years. Unfortunately, during the first test of this approach in January, the power supply to the radio transmitter failed to turn back on. Engineers believe the fault can be traced to the transmitter's power supply, meaning that the extra energy they hoped to gain cannot be routed to the heater and science instruments. After many attempts, the Ulysses project team now considers it highly unlikely that the X-band transmitter will be recovered. As a result, the spacecraft has lost its ability to send large quantities of scientific data back to Earth and is facing the gradual freezing of its fuel lines. The team plans to continue operating the spacecraft in its reduced capacity, using the alternate S-band transmitter, for as long as they can over the next few weeks.

NASA and ESA Releases [alt.].
Coverage by PSB (earlier), NwS, AD, Dsc., PrA, S&T, CSM, KSJ, NaB, BAB, UT, TAB, ST, KL, BdW.

First interstellar dust particle extracted from Stardust catch!

The first keystone containing a particle identified by Stardust@home from the Stardust aerogel collector has been extracted: Update.
Venus Express ESA Releases of Mar. 13, Mar. 5 and Feb. 21, MPG PM vom 21.2., coverage of Mar. 18: BdW. Mar. 17: SC. Mar. 16: RealClimate. Mar. 14: CL, SC, ABCB. Feb. 23: BdW. Feb. 22: CL, SC, UT, BAB. Collision speculation: SC.
MESSENGER Status of Mar. 19, Mar. 7, Mar. 5, Feb. 27 and Feb. 21, a Virginia Tech PR [EA], S@N and coverage of Mar. 19: WO. Mar. 13: PSB. Mar. 11: S&T, Ast. Mar. 10: StS (sequel), PSB. Feb. 21: PSB. Dawn Journal of March 3. New Horizons at 9 AU: Update. Nix, Hydra adopted? Paper by Lithwick & Wu, UT.

Mars Update

MER S@N and coverage of Mar. 4: NW. Feb. 29: PS (B). Feb. 25: KSJ. Feb. 18: NaB. Mars Odyssey ASU, THEMIS and NASA Releases of Mar. 20, picture 10247 and coverage by BBC, NwS, SC, NYTB, BAB, UT. MRO Martian avalance image [alt.] and comments, S@N, NASA PR of March 3 [JPL], UA PR of March 6 and Feb. 29, pictures 102... 48, 45 and 44 [alt.] and coverage of Mar. 20: SC. Mar. 15: StS. Mar. 13: BBC, StS. Mar. 12: MaC. Mar. 11: PW, MaC. Mar. 10: BdW. Mar. 7: NwS, ST. Mar. 6: SC, ScB, BdW. Mar. 5: PS, FT, PrA, W. Mar. 4: S&T, NwS, KSJ, NaB, SkM, IO9, ST, WDR, Sp., DPA, mehr deutsche. Mar. 3: NG, SC, Dsc., PSB, CNNB, BAB (more), UT. Mar. 1: BAB. Feb. 29: SC, UPI, ABCB. Feb. 21: SC. Mars Express Releases of Mar. 14 [alt.] and Mar. 12 and coverage of March 17: SC. Phoenix ESA PR of Feb. 28, JPL PR of Feb. 28 and coverage of Mar. 3: SC. Feb. 28: NwS. MSL coverage of Mar. 12: StS. Feb. 29: KSJ, NaB. Feb. 22: AD. ExoMars Graz Release of 26.2. and coverage of Feb. 25: BBC. Unique Martian formation reproduced, reveals brief bursts of water: VT Release, NwS, SC, BdW. Mars impact history: S&T, StS. Geysers on Mars? NwS, BdW.

Saturn Update

Very close Enceladus flyby history. An official NASA Blog, media page and preview video, JPL/NASA Releases of March 20 [alt.], March 13 [alt.], March 10, March 6 [NASA] and Feb. 19, LANL Release of Mar. 6, U. Leicester PR of Feb. 22, ESA Releases of March 7 and Feb. 19, DLR, MPG and Uni Koeln PMn, pictures #98... 63, 62, 61, 60, 59, 58, 57, 56, 55, 54, 53, 52, 51, 50, 49, 48, 47, 46, 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40 and 39 and 84... 09, 08 and 07 and coverage of Mar. 21: KSJ, NYT, SMH, SkM. Mar. 20: PS (B; earlier), S&T, BBC, NwS, SC, CNNB, BAB, AT, UT, TIME. Mar. 19: AW&ST, BdW. Mar. 18: PSB. Mar. 17: APOD, PSB, TAB, DPA. Mar. 16: SpW. Mar. 14: BBC, NwS, SC, KSJ, PSB, NaB, W, NAI. Mar. 13: PSB, NYT. Mar. 12: NwS, KSJ, ST, BdW. Mar. 11: BBC, SC, AsP, CNNB, SkM. Mar. 8: PSB. Mar. 7: S&T, Dsc., CL, PSB, ST, BdW. Mar. 6: PS, NwS, SC, BAB (other post), W. Mar. 4: SWr. Feb. 29: AI. Feb. 28: PSB, W. Feb. 26: AB, IO9. Feb. 21: JHU NL. Feb. 19: PSB. Ring plane crossing coming in 2009: S@N.

ISS etc. Update

Atlantis is back while Endeavour (docked to the ISS) and the ATV (waiting for its turn) are in orbit. STS-123 Status, launch video (getting interesting at minute 5 and esp. from 6:40!) and picture (closer), pictures from the mission, videos from the SRB cameras in a pretty raw version and edited to music, NASA Releases of Mar. 11, Mar. 4, Feb. 29, Feb. 26, Feb. 25, Feb. 22, Feb. 20 (earlier) and Feb. 18, ESA Releases of Mar. 20, Mar. 19, Mar. 14 (more), Mar. 12, Mar. 11, Mar. 9 (earlier and video clips), Mar. 8, Mar. 7, Mar. 6, Mar. 5, Mar. 3, Feb. 29, Feb. 27, Feb. 26 and Feb. 20, DLR Releases of Mar. 9 and Feb. 26, Arianespace Release of Mar. 9, Statements from a hearing on March 13 (also from the Plan. Soc.), Griffin statements of March 10, March 5 and Feb. 29, a CSR Report for Congress, a NASA Culture Survey, a Hale memo of Feb. 22 and coverage of March 21: SN (earlier, other story), ABCB, AW&ST, SC (B), NYT (B), BAB, AFP, UT, ST, W. March 20: SC. March 19: SN (earlier, other story), BBC, SC, ST. March 18: SN (earlier), SR, CS, BBC, SC, ST. March 17: SN, NYT, SC, NYTB, SpR (other story). March 16: SN (earlier), BBC, SC, SpP, ST, W. March 15: SN, BBC (earlier), SC. March 14: SN (earlier), BBC (other story), NwS (other story), SC, ST. March 13: AW&ST, SN, SC, BBC, SpP, StS, ST, W (mehr). March 12: AW&ST, ABC, SN (earlier), BBC, SC (other and earlier story), AFP, UT, ST. March 11: SN (earlier), ABC, PS, FTB, BBC, SC (earlier; B), NwS (B), WP, NYT (earlier, other story; B), NaB, CNNB, UT, ST. March 10: SN (earlier), SC (other story), BBC (other story), G, BAB, SpR, StS, ST, DPA. March 9: SN (earlier and other story), BBC, SC (other story), NYT, UT, ST, W. March 8: SN, SC (other, earlier stories), AFP, ST. March 7: SN, AD, BBC (more), SC (more), CS, X, NASAB, PrA, SpP, W. March 6: NwS, SC, AFP, SpP, FTB, DPA, UT, ST. March 5: SN (more), BBC, SC, APOD. March 4: NYT, SD. March 3: AW&ST, NW, SC, W (andere Story), ORF. Feb. 29: NYT, AW&ST, SN, SC, ST. Feb. 28: AW&ST. Feb. 27: AD, CS, W. Feb. 26: SN, PS Advocacy, ST. Feb. 25: SN, SpR (other story). Feb. 24: NYT. Feb. 22: SN. Feb. 21: SR, Nov. Feb. 20: SN, AW&ST, NYT, NwS, BBC, SC (earlier, still earlier), UT, ST (earlier). Feb. 19: SN (earlier), NYT (other story), SC, UT, APOD, BAB. Feb. 18: SN, BBC, SC, ST (earlier), W (andere Story).

Stellar winds colliding at our cosmic doorstep

The first unambiguous discovery of high-energy X-rays coming from a rare massive star at our cosmic doorstep, Eta Carinae - one of the most violent places in the galaxy, producing vast winds of electrically-charged particles colliding at speeds of thousands of kilometres per second: ESA Release [alt.]. No threat from Eta Car: AB. Cloudshine: ESO PR.

Small 'helper' stars needed for massive star formation: paper by Krumholz & McKee, Berkeley PR, coverage by NwS, SC, BAB, PP. How planetary nebulae are shaped: Rochester PR, SC. Weird "death star" story: KSJ, PrA, SC. The first interacting binary where a substellar companion has been directly detected? Gemini PR.

End of Sun, fate of Earth, calculated once more

Tidal effects of the slowly rotating giant star will drag the Earth into it, 7.6 Gyr from now, new calculations show: a paper by Schröder & Smith and coverage by PW, NwS, NYT, SC, KSJ, PrA, CD, PDA, Hs, W.

GRB from 7.5 Gly away reached naked-eye visibility for a few seconds on March 19: early links in C4U of Mar. 19 and Mar. 21, also "Pi of the Sky" and NASA pages, S@N and coverage by KSJ, NYT, NG, CD NwS, CtD, AFP, SkM, UT, DPA, Sp. Pulsar becomes magnetar for a while: McGill U and GSFC Releases. Youngest known PSR: NSF PR. SNe and ISM: Carnegie PR, NwS. SN distance via light echo: Chandra and ESA Releases, NwS. Alpha Cen planet speculation: UCSC PR, PW, SC, BAB.

Peruvian crater formation as mysterious as ever

Theorists disagree on the formation mechanism for the impact crater that shouldn't be there at all: C4U (with some links), NwS, Ast. BBC, CL, UT, Sp., W, KL.

Amino acids in meteorites more than ten times higher than levels previously measured in other similar meteorites: Imperial Coll. [EA] and Carnegie Releases, SC. Unusual Antarctic meteorites: BBC, NwS. Ancient asteroids: UMD PR, UT.

Best 3D map of lunar south pole from radar

Goldstone observations from 2006 yield 40 meter resolution, show area more rugged than thought: JPL Release, C4U, S@N, NYT, CSM, NwS, SC, CNNB, BAB, ST.

Chang'e survives eclipse of Feb. 21: X. Chandrayaan-1 launch slips to July: PSB, SD, SC. Chang'e 2 in 2009: X, SC, SD (earlier). Kaguya (non-)news but hot movies: PSB, BBC. Who's in lunar orbit: S@N. Int'l Lunar Network: SCB, MaC. SMART-1 S pole maps: ESA Release, PSB.

Expanded VLA reaches halfway mark

An international project to make the world's most productive ground-based telescope 10 times more capable has reached its halfway mark and is on schedule to provide astronomers with an extremely powerful new tool: NRAO Release. Edinburgh astronomers deliver "Origins" Camera: STFC PR. ALMA considered cool (by SF fans): IO9. Radio obs on lunar far side? U.Col.PR, WP, KSJ. Related: CampPr, DP.

LBT makes first observations with both mirrors

The Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz., has taken celestial images using its twin side-by-side, 8.4-meter primary mirrors together, achieving first "binocular" light: details, UA PR [EA], S&T, BBC, CBC, NPR, KSJ, UT, IO9, KL, AI.

Rollercoaster for UK astronomers as funding, access to Gemini, fate of Jodrell Bank are suddenly unclear: PW (earlier), STFC statement, BBC (earlier), Times, NwSB, DaveP, AstroB, NaB.

Google Sky now available on any web browser

While previously available as an addition to Google Earth, this new version is accessible through a web browser and makes sharing images as easy as sharing a hyperlink to a web page: Ars Technica.

Proton launch fails, satellite stuck in low orbit

A Proton launch of commercial communications satellite failed on March 15 when the rocket's upper stage shut down prematurely, stranding the satellite in a transfer orbit: ILS PR, SN, BBC, ST.


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