- Dawn’s imagery of Ceres keeps getting better
- Mysterious plumes in Mars’ atmosphere baffle astronomers
- Mars One mission cuts candidate pool down to 100 aspiring colonists
- Was this Star Nibiru? Scientists Discover Star Made Closest Approach to Our Solar System 70,000 Years Ago
- NASA Discovers Five Earth-like Planets
- How Many Planets Are Really in the Solar System?
- What Matters Most in Life? ~ Video
- America's Strange Supernatural History on Coast To Coast Radio with George Noory
- The real sizes of countries around the world
Posted: 17 Feb 2015 09:03 PM PST
Excerpt from spaceflightnow.com
Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on approach to the dwarf planet Ceres show a world pockmarked by craters and mysterious bright spots, and scientists are eager for a better look in the weeks ahead.
The latest images were taken Feb. 12 at a distance of 52,000 miles, or 83,000 kilometers, from Ceres. NASA released the fresh views Tuesday.
Every picture taken of Ceres in the coming weeks will show greater detail, as Dawn is set to be captured by the Texas-sized world’s gravity March 6. The dwarf planet will pull Dawn into the first of a series of survey orbits 8,400 miles from Ceres around April 23.
The imagery so far reveals Ceres as a cratered world, and Dawn will make a global map of the dwarf planet during its time in orbit.
But several bright spots have captured the attention of scientists.
“As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at UCLA. “We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”
The suspense is compounded by Dawn’s slow rate of approach. The probe’s ion propulsion system is gradually nudging Dawn on a trajectory closer to Ceres, eventually moving the spacecraft close enough to be grasped by the 590-mile diameter dwarf planet’s gravity.
“I want to know what is causing the bright spots,” Russell wrote in an email to Spaceflight Now. “The increased resolution seems to have moved us no closer to answering this mystery. I am frustrated by the suspense. This is the one problem of ion propulsion: We are closing in on Ceres very slowly.”
The latest photos have a resolution have 4.9 miles, or 7.8 kilometers, per pixel, according to a NASA press release.
Dawn’s framing camera will take its next set of images Feb. 20 at a range of about 30,000 miles. After late February, the resolution of Dawn’s imagery will be reduced as the spacecraft passes Ceres and flies in front of it, before being pulled closer in early April for insertion into orbit.
Soon after arriving in April, the spacecraft’s instruments will look for the signature of water vapor plumes shooting into space from the surface of Ceres, which may be blanketed in a crust of ice.
Dawn will orbit closest to Ceres in December at an altitude of 232 miles.
Dawn’s mission planners say the spacecraft could operate around Ceres until late 2016.
Ceres is the second destination for NASA’s Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007 and visited asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012.
Posted: 17 Feb 2015 08:59 PM PST
Excerpt from thespacereporter.com
Astronomers are baffled by images of plumes rising from Mars’ atmosphere in images taken by amateur astronomers in March and April 2012.
The plumes were present for about 10 days though their shapes and sizes changed rapidly during that time, from finger-like tendrils to spherical blobs.
Researchers have proposed several possible explanations for the plumes, which are discussed in an article just published in the journal Nature.
Each of the theories being considered poses problems. One theory, for instaqnce, proposes the plumes are caused by the same magnetic influence that causes the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, on Earth. The movement of electrically charged particles from the Sun, driven by the solar wind towards Earth’s poles, results in these particles colliding with molecules of gas. These collisions produce the strange lights known as aurorae.
In the study, the researchers admit, “Mars aurorae have been observed near where the plume occurs, a region with a large anomaly in the crustal magnetic field that can drive the precipitation of solar wind particles into the atmosphere.”
They move on to consider another option, namely that the plumes might be clouds high in the Martian atmosphere.
A highly reflective cloud of either water ice, carbon dioxide ice, or dust particles could explain the plumes. But according to computer models, the presence of these clouds “would require exceptional deviations from standard atmospheric circulation models to explain cloud formations at such high altitudes,” explained the paper’s lead author, Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the Universidad del Pais Vasco in Spain.
The plumes were seen approximately 120 miles (200 km) from Mars’ surface, which is problematic because the highest Martian clouds are seen is 60 miles (100 km) above the planet’s surface. The only way water can condense so far up is if the temperature in that part of Mars’ atmosphere drops 370 degrees Fahrenheit, or 50 degrees Kelvin, below its norm.
Condensation of carbon dioxide would require twice this temperature drop.
A third theory posits the flumes are caused by atmospheric dust. A wind powerful enough to transport dust 111 miles (180 km) above Mars’ surface could occur only around noon, when the Sun’s heat would be strong enough to create such wind currents.
However, the plumes were seen not at noon but in the mornings along the terminator that separates the planet’s day and night sides.
Recently, data from the Hubble Space Telescope was found showing the plumes back in 1997.
Posted: 17 Feb 2015 08:53 PM PST
Excerpt from mashable.com
Only 100 people are still competing for four seats on a one-way trip to Mars advertised by Dutch nonprofit Mars One.
In its latest round of cuts, the foundation cut its applicant pool from 660 to 100 finalists on Tuesday. More than 200,000 people across the globe originally applied when Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp first announced intentions to send what would be humanity's first mission to the Red Planet by 2025.
The remaining finalists are equally divided between men and women with 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, seven from Africa and seven from Oceania. The selection process for the latest round consisted of interviews with the organization's chief medical officer Norbert Kraft, who asked each of the candidates to demonstrate their team spirit, motivation and understanding of the risks, according to the announcement.
In order to choose the final four candidates, Lansdorp has said that he wants to run a televised reality show-style competition where teams of four compete in challenges that test their ability to withstand Mars-like conditions, and the world will vote to decide the winners. Advertising revenue from the competition will go toward defraying some of the monumental cost of the mission, which will also be supplemented by crowdfunding and private contributions.
Plenty of obstacles stand in the way of the mission. Aside from the massive amount of funding needed to make such lofty ambitions a reality, there are technical hurdles, health concerns and legal issues to consider.
Lansdorp has pegged the price tag of the first mission at $6 billion, but many have called that number into question. For perspective, NASA's Orion mission to Mars is expected to cost at least $100 billion. Mars One also alludes to using the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as a launcher, but it has yet to lock down a deal with the company.
A damning report released by MIT researchers last fall also poked holes in the science of the mission. The study's authors analyzed the equipment plans outlined by the organization and estimated that the Mars One settlers would suffocate or starve within 68 days.
The upcoming round of competition will narrow the field to up to 24 would-be explorers through group challenges and more interviews. After that, the final 24 will be put through training at a replica of the Mars colony on Earth. A full list of candidates still competing for a spot can be found here.
Was this Star Nibiru? Scientists Discover Star Made Closest Approach to Our Solar System 70,000 Years Ago
Posted: 17 Feb 2015 08:49 PM PST
Excerpt from americanlivewire.com
A low-mass red dwarf star passed through the outer Oort Cloud 70,000 years back in the closest approach made by any star into our system, discovers a team of researchers from various countries.
The lowest end of the stellar spectrum, brown dwarfs are larger than gas giants but not as much so as to sustain hydrogen fusion for a larger period of time.
Due to its faint appearance, Scholtz’s star was discovered only a year ago by astronomer Ralf Dieter-Scholz in Potsdam, Germany, through the use of NASA’s WISE (Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer), which mapped the entire sky in infrared during the years 2010 and 2011.
At the same time, the radial velocity of the star depicted that it was moving away from the solar system much faster than expected.
These motions led the researchers to conclude that either the star is headed toward our system, or moving away from it.
After analyzing the data, Mamajek concluded, “…The radial velocity measurements were consistent with it running away from the Sun’s vicinity–and we realized it must have had a close flyby in the past.”
Through the use of computer models, it was seen that the star passed about 5 trillion miles from our solar system around 70,000 years ago.
Mamajek and his team are 98 percent certain Scholtz’s star traveled through the outer Oort Cloud.
Although Scholtz’s star is 10th magnitude, too dim to be seen with the naked eye, it is magnetically active, which can cause it to flare at times and become significantly brighter. If this happened during its close approach to our solar system, prehistoric humans might have actually seen it.
The researchers published their findings in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Posted: 17 Feb 2015 08:31 PM PST
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