Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blue moons? Kepler-22b offers NASA habitable world hopes

kepler 22b
And NASA? NASA's Kepler space telescope team this month unveiled "Kepler-22b." A planet some 600 light-years away, Kepler-22b circles its star squarely in a "habitable zone" — the orbital distance where a world's surface temperature would neither boil nor freeze water, perhaps allowing oceans to survive as on Earth. Water is widely seen as one of life's vital ingredients by planetary scientists.

Catchy names, clearly, aren't a priority in astronomy. Other proposed habitable zone worlds reported by astronomers (among the more than 700 planets detected in the last two decades orbiting nearby stars) sport monikers such as "55 Cancri f" and "HD 85512 b.

But at least some solace comes from the Kepler space telescope team's estimate that just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, some 500 million planets likely orbit inside their star's habitable zone.

"We have many candidates in that region," said Kepler principal scientist William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., at a briefing unveiling Kepler-22b to his colleagues earlier this month. At his briefing, Borucki showed a chart depicting more than 50 possible habitable zone planets, as well as Kepler-22b, among the 2,326 planetary candidates detected by Kepler since its 2009 launch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Russian scientist apologizes for failed Mars moon mission

Mars Mission
In an open letter Thursday, a prominent Russian scientist lamented the failure of the country's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was meant to collect samples from Mars' moon Phobos, but instead is languishing in Earth orbit.

"We are deeply sorry about the failure" of Phobos-Grunt, wrote Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute and Chair of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Solar System Exploration Board, in a letter to fellow scientists and mission team members. "We hope in (the) future to continue our collaboration on space science projects."

The troubled spacecraft has been stranded since its Nov. 8 launch, when it failed to propel itself off into a deep space trajectory toward Mars.

Not giving up
In yesterday's message, Zelenyi said the reason for the failure has yet to be determined. He saluted the dedicated efforts of the European Space Agency, NASA, as well as the U.S. military space trackers and amateur skywatchers that helped in efforts to establish communication with the wayward probe and to assist in determining the exact orbit, orientation and attitude of Phobos-Grunt.

"However, despite people being at work 24/7 since the launch, all these attempts have not yield(ed) any satisfactory results," Zelenyi said. "Lavochkin Association specialists will continue their attempts to establish connection with the spacecraft and send commands until the very end of its existence."

Russia's NPO Lavochkin was the main contractor of the Phobos-Grunt project.

The spacecraft is expected to enter Earth's atmosphere in early January as a piece of space debris. Zelenyi explained that Russian space experts are now working on the issue of re-entry and the "probability of where and which fragments may hit the ground (if any)," he said.

Source :

Monday, December 05, 2011

Mars Mission Hoping To Satisfy Curiosity

mars rover
The University of Leicester is to play a key role in NASA's $2.5 billion mission to Mars. Dr. John Bridges of the University's Space Research Centre leads a team from the University of Leicester, the Open University, and CNES France which have been accepted as participating scientists on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, which lands in August 2012.

John Bridges will be among the first people to study images returned after landing. The Leicester-led team will focus on determining the conditions associated with the presence of water in past epochs at the landing site.

Launched on 26th November, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a NASA mission with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The 900-kg rover, which is the size of a small car, will travel on the Red Planet's surface for 23 months, looking at sediments that could help explain the planet's past and help to assess Mars's habitability.