SpaceX Dragon V2

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently gave us a sneak peak of the new Dragon spacecraft, the V2, being designed to transport up to seven astronauts into and back from orbit.

The V2 will land without a parachute, plus the technology makes for a built in escape system should a problem occur during launch.

I wonder how long will the transition from animation to reality take? I have a feeling not long, SpaceX is an amazing company.

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The Serpent’s Nursery

A star forming cloud in the constellation Serpens.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

A star forming cloud in the constellation Serpens. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

Serpens is one of the constellations we don’t hear much about but is probably familiar if you done much sky watching.

The alpha star has the interesting name of Unukalhai and is located at RA: 15h 45m 00.274s Dec: +06°22’54.854″ or Alt: +50°46’49.676″ Azim: 158°02’58.733″ if you have a compass. I put small finders chart here with the constellation outlined in blue. The tail points almost due south (time is about midnight local).

NASA’s caption:

Within the swaddling dust of the Serpens Cloud Core, astronomers are studying one of the youngest collections of stars ever seen in our galaxy. This infrared image combines data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope with shorter-wavelength observations from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), letting us peer into the clouds of dust wrapped around this stellar nursery.
At a distance of around 750 light-years, these young stars reside within the confines of the constellation Serpens, or the “Serpent.” This collection contains stars of only relatively low to moderate mass, lacking any of the massive and incredibly bright stars found in larger star-forming regions like the Orion nebula. Our sun is a star of moderate mass. Whether it formed in a low-mass stellar region like Serpens, or a high-mass stellar region like Orion, is an ongoing mystery.
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Soyuz Launched

This video of the Expedition Launch 40/41 launch yesterday (29 May Kazakh time) comes to us from NASA.

A beautiful night time launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan sending Soyuz Commander Max Suraev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), NASA Flight Engineer Reid Wiseman and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency to the International Space Station for a five and a half month mission.

There is video from inside the spacecraft of the crew. I was kind of daydreaming about how the ride was bumpy. Then the third stage cutoff occurred, gave the passengers quite a jolt and I have to admit it made me jump too.

The Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft docked with the ISS and the hatch between them was opened at 11:52 EDT (03:52 UTC) just about eight hours after launch. Everyone made it safe and sound.

Source

Blue Dot Launch Day!

The Expedition 40 crew from left are Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov, Commander Steve Swanson, and Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Gerst, Maxim Suraev and Reid Wiseman. Credit: NASA

The Expedition 40 crew from left are Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov, Commander Steve Swanson, and Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Gerst, Maxim Suraev and Reid Wiseman. Credit: NASA

The second half of the Expedition 40 crew is set to lift off today at 19:57 UTC (15:57 EDT). The first half of the Expedition 40 crew arrived at the station in March.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and Roscosmos commander Maxim Suarev will spend just six hours traveling to the International Space Station after launching in the Soyuz 39 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

This is also the start of Alexander’s so-called Blue Dot mission. Very cool stuff the Blue Dot includes dozens of experiments in physics, biology, human physiology and radiation.

One of the experiments is the installation of the German-built Electromagnetic Levitator. IT is a that furnace can melt and solidify metal alloys away from the container’s walls, helping scientists to understand the solidification and physical properties of molten alloys.

Another and possibly sketchy (just kidding) experiment is rodent research hardware to provide a platform for long-duration rodent experiments in space. Plus Rodent Research-1 testing the operational capabilities of the new hardware system, including the transporter, rodent habitat and access unit.

If we find out mouse traps are being taken to the ISS on a cargo ship or the Expedition flight (41) in September we will know not everything went to plan.

You should be able to get a live look at the launch at the NASA TV link in the banner above.

NGC 4605

A very nice look at NGC 4605 by Hubble. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts) and the LEGUS Team

A very nice look at NGC 4605 by Hubble. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts) and the LEGUS Team

Some overlooked viewing opportunities are available in the northern skies. Not surprising, all the action is near the ecliptic and the northern sky is by comparison sparsely populated in the north.

If you are looking for something different, try a good look in and around Ursa Major.

Below is the description from a NASA site, the link will go to that page with larger versions of the image. The description talks about groups or clusters of galaxies and how even they are bound to each other by gravity — good stuff.

Hubble Eyes a Scale of the Universe

This bundle of bright stars and dark dust is a dwarf spiral galaxy known as NGC 4605, located around 16 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). This galaxy’s spiral structure is not obvious from this image, but NGC 4605 is classified as an SBc type galaxy — meaning that it has sprawling, loosely wound arms and a bright bar of stars cutting through its center.

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Galactic Clumping

A galactic group or "clump" in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A galactic group or “clump” in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I subscribed to the theory that black holes in the centers of galaxies, the supermassive ones were all surrounded by a torus and it was how the galactic plane was angled toward us that made them appear different. NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) casts a shadow doubt on this so-called unified theory of active supermassive black holes:

From the Wise site:

Active, supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies tend to fall into two categories: those that are hidden by dust, and those that are exposed. Data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, have shown that galaxies with hidden supermassive black holes tend to clump together in space more than the galaxies with exposed, or unobscured, black holes.

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Closer to the Big Bang?

Those whom subscribe to the idea of cosmic inflation theory of the Big Bang are a little closer having the idea confirmed. The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation — BICEP2 — experiment at the South Pole has spotted the footprints of something called primordial gravitational waves.

The “instruments” used to detect the primordial gravity waves are both huge and exquisitely precise.

Other stuff:

Apparently I didn’t miss too much not being able to see the Camelopardalis meteor shower due to rain. Oh well it goes like that sometimes.

video form ESA Eronews.

New Crater on Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using the MARCI, the Mars Color Imager used as a weather monitoring camera took an image of a new crater on Mars. The crater, first appeared in March 2012 was caused by an air-bursting meteor. Intense pressures caused by friction with the thin Martian atmosphere caused the meteor to explode before it impacted the ground. We see that happen on Earth too. An example is the the Russian meteor last year in Chelyabinsk.

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See a Double Star!

While you are out tonight or early tomorrow morning enjoying (or at least looking for) the Camelopardalis meteor shower — you ARE going to look right? — you can see a double star too maybe even at the same time.

The stars, Mizar and Alcor are in the constellation Ursa Major (also The Big Dipper or The Plough). The picture below will help you get your bearings. In the “handle” of the “dipper” the second star is named Mizar. Mizer has a partner  called Alcor. I’ve heard stories the pair was used to as a vision test, if you could resolve the pair you had “normal” eyes. Maybe you have good eyes and can see both, I’ve not had that experience, skies were darker not so many years ago too and that had to help. Still it’s right there get your eyes dark adapted (no lights for about 15 minutes should do it) and have a look.

Note:  The Mizar and Alcor pair are much more than a pair.  Mizar is really part of a four-star system and Alcor is part of another binary system and apparently all are gravitationally bound.  A sextuple system!

Better yet if you have even a small pair of binoculars, take a look at that star and you will see the pair. Click the image to see them resolved.

Ursa Major and Mizar.  Stellarium

Ursa Major and Mizar. Stellarium

Also notice how the end two stars making the “dipper” part sort of point to the star labeled Polaris. Polaris is of course the “North Star. The meteor shower should emanate from the constellation Camelopardalis which is between Polaris and your northern horizon early on. Normally we think of stars moving from East to West, but the stars in Camelopardalis, being “below” Polaris will rotate to the East as the night goes on.

Here’s a picture to help. I would imagine if the meteor shower is anything at all you will find the radiant pretty easily if you just look north.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

But what to do if is cloudy? All is not lost, turns out the forecast for me is rain, naturally. I’ll be watching on SLOOH if nothing else.

Saturn’s Aurora

Hubble's look at the aurora on Saturn. Credit: NASA/ESA, Acknowledgement: J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Hubble’s look at the aurora on Saturn. Credit: NASA/ESA, Acknowledgement: J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

The details from ESA’s Space in Images:

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have captured new images of the dancing auroral lights at Saturn’s north pole. Taken in April and May 2013 from Hubble’s perspective in orbit around Earth, these observations provide a detailed look at previously unseen dynamics in the choreography of the auroral glow.

The ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble’s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys, capture moments when Saturn’s magnetic field is affected by bursts of particles streaming from the Sun.

Saturn’s magnetosphere – the vast magnetic ‘bubble’ that surrounds the planet – is compressed on the Sunward side of the planet, and streams out into a long ‘magnetotail’ on the nightside.

It appears that when particles from the Sun hit Saturn, the magnetotail collapses and later reconfigures itself, an event that is reflected in the dynamics of its auroras.

Saturn was caught during a very dynamic light show – some of the bursts of light seen shooting around Saturn’s polar regions travelled more than three times faster than the speed of the gas giant’s roughly 10-hour rotation period!

The new observations were taken as part of a three-year Hubble observing campaign, and are presented in a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The images complement those taken by the international Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.