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The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer, Germany
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The Sky in March 2009
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Picture-perfect launch of exo-Earth hunter Kepler; results in 3 years!
The launch was (picture-)perfect, and in 2 months the Kepler spacecraft should be ready - but it'll take some three years for any firm detection of exo-Earths, we are warned. The NASA front page, the launch on Media Player (1 1/2 min.), on YouTube (5 min.) or via Vimeo (15 min.) and how it felt on Twitter, in NASA pictures, one from ULA and by B. Cooper, the officicial launch blog and inofficial mission Status, five things about Kepler, a launch timeline, NASA & JPL Releases of Mar. 7 [JPL], Mar. 5 [JPL], Feb. 26 and Feb. 19, more relases from LANL, McDonald Obs., Berkeley, ULA and USAF, a JPL Blog entry, S@N of Mar. 7 and Feb. 20, a LASP page on mission ops, an eyewitness report from near-by w/pics of the launch (esp. this one; from another close vantage point it looked like this) while from farther away it looked like this (detail) or this (more, more, more and more perspectives), a recorded Webcast w/a school and coverage of Mar. 7 (UTC): SN, FT, BBC, LAT, SC, USAT, NYT, RO, OSB, Tel., DP, S&T, CSM, AFP, OSB, AM, FS, PrA, GB, UT, Tw. (earlier), ST, TS, RP, Sp., DP, HB, W, MDR, TA, SSJ. Mar. 6: PW, LAT, AN, FT, SC (other story), PM, AD, VoA, IW, Tel., CNN, DlP, AFP, CL, BTC, CD, SpW, AsP, Tw., DLF. Mar. 5: SN, ScAm, T, G, NwS, BBC, T., SC, CD, HaA, ExP. Mar. 4: SC. Mar. 3: KSJ, NYT, AuP, SaA, TA. Mar. 2: SpR, PW, AB, PrA. Mar. 1: HC. Feb. 28: CR. Feb. 27: SC. Feb. 24: Ast. Feb. 23: Sp. Feb. 20: KSJ, Tim., CD. Feb. 19: SC (more), UT.
Update # 325 of Saturday, March 7, 2009
VLTI delivers a real image / Flagship goes to Jupiter / Bolide linked to comet Metcalf /
Iridium satellite hit by Russian satellite / NASA satellite lost in Taurus failure

The VLT inferometer delivers a real image: a spherical molecular shell around an aged star

A team of French astronomers has captured one of the sharpest colour images ever made: They observed the star T Leporis, which appears, on the sky, as small as a two-storey house on the Moon. The image was taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), emulating a virtual telescope about 100 metres across and reveals a spherical molecular shell around the aged star. This is one of the first images made using near-infrared interferometry. When doing interferometry, astronomers must often content themselves with fringes, the characteristic pattern of dark and bright lines produced when two beams of light combine, from which they can model the physical properties of the object studied. But, if an object is observed on several runs with different combinations and configurations of telescopes, it is possible to put these results together to reconstruct a real image of the object.

This is what has now been done with ESO's VLTI, using the 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes. "We were able to construct an amazing image, and reveal the onion-like structure of the atmosphere of a giant star at a late stage of its life for the first time," says a team member: "Numerical models and indirect data have allowed us to imagine the appearance of the star before, but it is quite astounding that we can now see it, and in colour." Although it is only 15 by 15 pixels across, the reconstructed image shows an extreme close-up of a star 100 times larger than the Sun, a diameter corresponding roughly to the distance between the Earth and the Sun. This star is, in turn, surrounded by a sphere of molecular gas, which is about three times as large again. To create this image with the VLTI astronomers had to observe the star for several consecutive nights, using all the four movable 1.8-metre VLT Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs).

Paper by Le Bouquin & al., ESO Release and coverage by OAN, SpW, BAB.

Trigonometric parallaxes of ten ultracool subdwarfs

have been measured at Calar Alto with respect to many background galaxies, confirming the previously measured parallax and absolute magnitude of the nearest and coolest T brown dwarf: paper by Schilbach et al., ARI, CAHA and AIP Releases.
ESO 2.2 m WFI image of Carina Nebula (UT).

NASA/ESA Flagship mission decision: It'll be the Jovian system!

But studies will also continue for a later mission to Saturn & Titan

At a meeting in Washington in mid-February, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space Agency officials decided to continue pursuing studies of a mission to Jupiter and its four largest moons, and to plan for another potential mission to visit Saturn's largest moon Titan and Enceladus. The missions, called the Europa Jupiter System Mission and the Titan Saturn System Mission, are the result of NASA and ESA merging their separate mission concepts. NASA originally studied four mission concepts during 2007, which were narrowed down to two proposals in 2008. One finalist was a Europa Orbiter to explore that icy moon of Jupiter and its subsurface water ocean. The other was a Titan Orbiter to visit the Saturn moon. Independently, in 2007, ESA also initiated a competition to select its flagship mission for the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 slot of the ESA scientific programme.

Two finalists, called Laplace and Tandem, were selected by ESA for further study. Laplace was a set of spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and eventually orbit and land on Europa. Tandem was a set of spacecraft intended to orbit Titan and explore its surface, after also exploring the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. NASA and ESA engineers and scientists carefully studied both potential missions in preparation for the crucial meeting. Based on these and other studies as well as stringent independent assessment reviews, NASA and ESA agreed that the Europa Jupiter System Mission, called Laplace in Europe, was the most technically feasible to do first. However, ESA's Solar System Working Group concluded the scientific merits of this mission and a Titan Saturn System Mission could not be separated.

The group recommended, and NASA agreed, that both missions should move forward for further study and implementation. Although the Jupiter system mission has been chosen to proceed to an earlier flight opportunity, a Saturn system mission clearly remains a high priority for the science community: Both agencies will need to undertake several more steps andr detailed studies before officially moving forward. The Saturn mission in particular faces several technical challenges requiring significant study and technology development. NASA will continue studying and developing those technologies. On the European side, the interested community of scientists will have to re-submit the Titan mission at the next opportunity for mission proposals in the Cosmic Vision programme in the years to come.

NASA, ESA and JPL Releases and coverage of Mar. 4: KL. Mar. 3: CD. Feb. 19: PW, Ast., SD, ST. Feb. 18: SN, BBC, ScAm, NwS, SC, GB, PSB (earlier), DLF, KL. Feb. 16: PSB, DG. Feb. 13: NeS. Feb. 10: ABC. Feb. 9: Dsc. Related - how thick is Europa's ice crust? CD.

Saturn Update

JPL Releases of Mar. 3 and Feb. 26, pictures # 118... 22, 02 and 01, 111... 49 and 48, 105... 89, 87, 85 and 76 and coverage of Mar. 4: PSB, NaB, KL. Mar. 3: PSB. Feb. 25: PSB. Feb. 24: PSB. Feb. 20: KL. Feb. 18: KL. Feb. 9: PSB.

ESA extends missions studying Mars, Venus and Earth's magnetosphere

ESA's Science Programme Committee has extended the operations of ESA's Mars Express, Venus Express and Cluster missions until 31 December 2009: ESA Release, PSB. VEX IR Venus night glow obs: ESA PR.

Spanish bolide in 2008 linked to breakup of Comet C/1919 Q2 (Metcalf) in 1920

Last July, people in Spain, Portugal and France watched the brilliant fireball produced by a boulder crashing down through the Earth's atmosphere. A paper to be published in the MNRAS now says that the boulder may have originated from a comet which broke up nearly 90 years ago and suggests the tantalising possibility that chunks of the boulder (and hence pieces of the comet) are waiting to be found on the ground. Based on images of the bolide in the sky, the paper shows that before its fiery demise, the boulder travelled on an unusual orbit around the Sun, on a path which took it from beyond the orbit of Jupiter to the vicinity of the Earth. This orbit is very similar to that of a cloud of dusty particles (meteoroids) known as the Omicron Draconids, which on rare occasions produces a minor meteor shower and probably originates from the breakup of Comet C/1919 Q2 Metcalf in 1920. This strongly suggests that the boulder was once embedded in the nucleus of that comet.
RAS Press Release, bolide pictures, SC, UT. The Texas bolide & meteorites of Feb. 15 are covered here. Fragments of the predicted Sudan fireball found: NwS, TsS, Rem.
The case of 1999 RQ36 - could impact in distant future: paper by Milani & al., NwS, SB, Sp. Non-case of 2009 BD81 - won't impact at all: A80.

Mars Update

MRO status of Mar. 3 and Feb. 25, Brown Release of Mar. 2, UA Release of Feb. 27, a paper on the discovery of columnar jointing on Mars (related picture) and coverage of Mar. 4: ST. Mar. 2: ScAm, BBC, Tel., SC. Feb. 27: UT. Feb. 26: ST. Feb. 18: UT. Feb. 14: UT. Feb. 11: SB. Mars Express ESA Release of March 6. MER Status of Mar. 5 and Feb. 12, pictures # 118... 23, 18, 14, 10, 117... 99 and 92 HiRISE pic # 11765_1780 and coverage of Mar. 5: PSB, UT. Mar. 3: CuS. Feb. 28: PS. Feb. 19: SC. Feb. 12: UT, CENAP. Odyssey JPL Release of Mar. 4 and coverage of Mar. 4: PSB. Phoenix JPL Release of Feb. 10, debate on UMF and coverage of Feb. 21: CD. Feb. 19: SZ. Feb. 18: NwS, UT, DLF, Sp. Feb. 12: Tw. Feb. 10: ABCB. Phobos-Grunt coverage of Mar. 1: UT. Feb. 25: Dsc. MSL assembly picture and coverage of Mar. 2: SpR (more). Feb. 25: UT. Feb. 11: WP. The 2016 NASA orbiter: NwS. Natural antifreeze may keep Mars running with water: NwS. Ancient springs on Mars? AstroB PR (related picture). Mars craters tell story of water and ice: UT, SC.

ISS etc. Update

STS-119 is now GO for launch on March 11th! Status, NASA Budget documents, NASA Releases of Mar. 6, Mar. 4 Mar. 2, Feb. 25, Feb. 20 and Feb. 13/14, a kinda blog by Exp. 18 member S. Magnus on life on the ISS (and views of Earth), ESA Release of Feb. 19, DLR Release of Feb. 10 and coverage of Mar. 7: AP, ST. Mar. 6: SC (more), SN, PaA. Mar. 5: SN, PW, KSJ, ST. Mar. 4: SN, SC, IO9, CS, UT. Mar. 3: NwSB. Mar. 2: PW, DLF. Feb. 27: ST. Feb. 26: SpP, NwS, NW, ST. Feb. 25: SN, IO9, AW&ST, SC. Feb. 24: NwS. Feb. 23: SpP. Feb. 22: NW. Feb. 21: BBC, ST, TS. Feb. 20: SN, SC. Feb. 19: SN, BBC, UT. Feb. 18: Nov., Sp. Feb. 17: SpP. Feb. 16: BigPic. Feb. 14: ST (other story). Feb. 13: SN (other story), SC, SpP, ST. Feb. 12: SC. Feb. 11: SN, SpP, NW (other item). Feb. 10: SC, NwSB, UT. Feb. 9: SpP, NPR, PA, Sp. Feb. 8: BaltSun. Satellite crash consequences for HST SM rumored, may be just that; launcg still possible on May 12 - HST Update of Mar. 6 and coverage of Mar. 6: Tw. Feb. 28: CV. Feb. 20: HubblePAO tweets # 1, 2 and 3 (earlier), KL. Feb. 19: ScAm, SB. Feb. 18: Tw., NeS, UT. Planning Commission clears funds for ISRO manned space mission, "scheduled for launch by 2015": DomB. Further Shenzhou plans: X.

U.S. and Russian satellites collide

A commercial - and working - Iridium communications satellite (#33) collided with the old Russian satellite Cosmos 2251 on Feb. 10, creating a cloud of wreckage in low-Earth orbit; this is probably the first-ever sat-sat collision between two large spacecraft, and the consequences for other spacecraft, operations and politics can't be fully stated yet: Wikipedia, APOD, KSJ, AT, SpR, SatTrackCam, Sat KML, Rtr (other story), MeteorObs, ÖWF NL (p.2-3), KL. News covering the first three days (until midnight Feb. 13 CET): AGI simulation [YT version], KSJ, AP, ABC, Rtr (more, still more; earlier), AE (earlier), NwS (earlier), SC (earlier, still earlier), SN, ScAm, NYT, FG, BBC (earlier), UT (earlier), MSNBC, CBS, AFP, Tel., SatTrack, PSB (earlier), NW, TwP, BAB (earlier), ST, TAZ, TS, DLF, Sp. (früher), AI, KL, AN. No reentries of the debris soon: MeteorObs.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory lost in launch failure of Taurus

The fairing didn't separate and rocket and satellite fell into the Atlantic: Status, NASA terse release (als one on the investigation board) and Updates, a blog report by an OCO engineer and coverage by SN, NwS (B), ScAm, Nat., PW, WP, SC, NYT, RC, BBC, CNN, Tel., KSJ, UT (earlier), CL, NW, AE, SpW, TAB, SD, BAB, ST, DLF, AI, Sp., Ori. Earlier: Feb. 17 NASA Release, Feb. 16 KSC Launch Status, NASA launch blog, NASA Release of Jan. 29, JPL Blog of Feb. 20 and coverage of Feb. 18: SC. Feb. 17: UT. Feb. 8: AW&ST. Now Glory on hold: NwSB.

LandSat 5 now at work for 25 years and 133,000 orbits: NASA Update. How NOAA-N' was revived: Ori. DSCOVR comeback? SN.

Iran's space launch capability called 'rudimentary' by U.S. military, then it's called a "beefed up" rocket; Iran has more ambitions while the current satellite in orbit is tumblingi and the upper stage makes glints: SC (earlier), LN, NwS, AFP. Earlier: KL. North Korea next? C4UT, JSR (scroll down a bit) and ST. Ariane 5 rocket trucks four spacecraft into orbit: SN.

Dawn has made a close approach to Mars

on Feb. 18 - the "navigators were dead on and the thing flew past and got the energy assist that it needed", and a close-up picture was taken. JPL Release of Feb. 26, MPS PM of 23.2.i [MPGi DLR Release of Feb. 13 [German], MPS PM vom 13.2., PSI Release of Feb. 12, JPL Feature of Feb. 12, Journal of Feb. 13 and coverage of Mar. 5: AB. Feb. 24: PSB, AI. Feb. 21: PSB. Feb. 19: ST. Feb. 18: SN, SC. Feb. 17: S&T. Feb. 11: PSB. Hayabusa coverage of Feb. 12: Yom.

MESSENGER reached its perihelion on Feb. 9 and passed within 0.31 AU of the Sun - the mission's imaging team is taking advantage of the probe's proximity to the fiery sphere to continue their search for vulcanoids, small asteroids postulated to circle the Sun in stable orbits inside the orbit of Mercury: Status Report.

Kaguya films the Earth rising with the Sun behind

A most unusual video clip from lunar orbit: JAXA movie and press release S@N, more, more, more, more, more, more and more. Also an ARC Release on no Peak of Eternal Light, another JAXA Release and coverage of Mar. 5: Luna C/I. Feb. 16: NwS. Feb. 13: PSB, LuN (subsat de-orbited). Feb. 12: SC, AFP, UT. Feb. 9: PSB (end of article: subsatellite crash soon).

Chang'e crashes into the Moon on March 1, as planned: X, BBC, LPOD, UT, BAB, ST, Sp., SB. What may be next: X. Chandrayaan-I coverage of Mar. 5: Exa. Feb. 8: ToI.

Launch preparations for the LRO and LCROSS; launch date NET May 20: ELV Status of Feb. 27 and Feb. 20, NASA Releases of Feb. 17 and Feb. 11 and coverage of Feb. 20: Tw., SC. Feb. 18: Tw., PSB. Feb. 16: LN. Feb. 12: NW (launch delay rumor). Feb. 9: UT. ESA Moon lander ideas sought: ESA Release. Radio telescopes on the Moon? Paper, Meg.

Herschel and Planck have arrived in Kourou

on Feb. 14 and 20 - launch remains set for April 16: an insider blogs (several February entries), Launch campaign pics (earlier, more, still more), ESA Release, BBC (earlier), SAs, Tw. (earlier). Gravity Probe-B analysis funded by Saudis: NYT, SB.

ESA's GOCE go for March 16: ESA Release of Feb. 4 and coverage of Feb. 20: Tw.

NASA awards launch services for NuSTAR mission to Orbital Sciences: NASA Release. Also: CD. And some of the actual pieces that will fly aboard the James Webb Space Telescope are now being built: NASA Feature.

HD 80606b transit bagged

The extremely excentric planet HD 80606b has indeed been caught in a transit on February 14, a roughly 15 percent probability now turned into hard data - several teams were successful: papers by Moutou & al., Fossey & al. and Garcia-Melendo & McCullough, Oklo updates of Feb. 26 and Feb. 25, CD, S&T.

HST/NICMOS detection of HR 8799 b in 1998 - if only the software had been good enough back then: paper by Lafreniere & al., ScN, SAs, UT, DG.

Migrating giant planets left traces in the main belt near the Kirkwood gaps: UA Release, CD, UT.

High star density in Ultra Compact Dwarf galaxies

Ultra Compact Dwarf galaxies (UCDs), a recently discovered class of object, may have had stars a hundred times closer together than in the solar neighbourhood - in the early Universe: RAS Press Release. GALEX has identified dwarf galaxies forming out of nothing more than pristine gas likely leftover from the early Universe: JPL Release, MB.

Complicated galaxy trio imaged by Hubble: HST and HST ESA Releases. Turbulence may promote the birth of massive stars: CfA PR.

First laboratory experiment to accurately model stellar jets explains mysterious 'knots': Univ. of Rochester PR.

Most extreme gamma-ray blast ever, seen by Fermi

GRB 080916C exceeded the power of nearly 9,000 ordinary supernovae, and the gas bullets emitting the initial gamma rays must have moved at no less than 99.9999 percent the speed of light: GLAST, SLAC and NASA Releases, S@N, KSJ, S&T, Tel., UT, BdW. Swift Satellite records early phase of gamma ray burst: STFC Release.

Swift & Fermi observations of gamma-flaring star SGR J1550-5418 [alt.], SFM. SN traces in ice core: arXivB.

  • Comet Lulin is a fine X-ray source, thanks to its gas-rich coma: NASA and STFC Releases, SD. Best visual window over - here are some results people got: C4U.
  • The lower atmosphere of Pluto revealed - unexpectedly large amounts of methane and hotter than the surface by about 40 degrees: paper by Lellouch & al., ESO Release, PSB, CD, BAB, BdW, Sp.
  • 'Chameleon particle' blends into the background - Fermilab sets an upper mass limit for another dark matter candidate: PW. String theory makes a prediction: SyB, SD. Did Weber detect gravitational waves from SN 1987A? SB.
  • Cosmological "Cosmic Dawn" simulations: STFC PR. Colors of Quasars Reveal a Dusty Universe: SSDS PR.
  • Sat images of the Aussie bush fire: UT, Sp. Threat continuing, Slooh man reports: CA. Earlier report from the Southern Galactic Telescope Hosting Facility: UT.

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