The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

Predicted special meteor shower didn't materialize at all
It was supposed to be generated by dust from comet C/1976 D1 (Bradfield), but only one (!) meteor was seen from the ISS: CCNet. Earlier: IAUC, Science@NASA, Ast. NEAT conspiracy lunacy: SC. The comet after perihelion: APOD. IDPs in the upper atmosphere contain ancient stardust: NASA Release, S&T, Ast., BBC, Guardian, Rtr, SC, NZ. Finally a large sunspot again: S&T.
Update # 250 of Thursday, March 6, 2003
Brightest SN ever reached -7.5m / ALMA agreement signed / Columbia investigation update

Brightest supernova ever reached -7.5m in 1006

By combining precise digital observations with simple mathematics it has been shown that the apparent brightness of an exploding star whose light reached Earth nearly a thousand years ago was probably the brightest stellar event witnessed in recorded human history. On May 1, 1006, a spectacularly bright star appeared suddenly in the southern sky in the constellation Lupus (the wolf): Observers in China, Japan, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, and Switzerland recorded observations of the star, which remained visible for several months before becoming lost in the glare of daylight. While all agree that the star was spectacularly bright, it has not been clear until now just how bright. Modern astronomers have long concluded that the 1006 display resulted from a supernova, a distant star that ended its life in a spectacular explosion. Yet as bright as it appeared in the 11th century, the remains of the supernova are all but invisible today.

Imaging observations spanning a period of 11 years have now been used to measure how fast the brightest filaments in the shell are expanding. Other recent spectral observations of these same filaments can be used to determine the absolute value of the shock wave's speed. This speed turns out to be 2,900 km/s or almost 1 percent of the speed of light. Knowing both the rate at which the distant shell appears to be expanding and the corresponding true velocity, the astronomers used simple geometry to calculate a precise distance from Earth to the shell. The result, 7,100 light-years, must also be the distance to the star that exploded. Since SN 1006 was of type Ia and all Ia supernovae have about the same absolute brightness, it could be calculated how bright the star must have appeared to 11th century observers: at magnitude -7.5, i.e. a little less than halfway between that of Venus and that of the full Moon.

NOAO Press Release, S&T, NZ.

Molecular cloud has a heartbeat

The dark molecular cloud known as Barnard 68 is pulsating: CfA Press Release, NZ.
Cocoon around Black Widow Pulsar shows that this rejuvenated pulsar is an extremely efficient generator of a high-speed flow: NASA Release, BBC.
CANGAROO finds halo of gamma rays around galaxy - a galaxy famous for its furious rate of star formation and star explosions sits within a halo of ultra-hot gamma rays: GSFC Release, Ast.
Gravity test confines string theory dimensions - Newton's law is valid even at distances of 1/10 mm: New Sci., SciAm, SC, BdW, NZ. Geometry, fate of Universe thoughts: BBC, New Sci., SC.

U.S. and European ALMA partners sign agreement: green light for World's most powerful radio observatory!

Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and Dr. Catherine Cesarsky, director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), on Feb. 25 signed a historic agreement jointly to construct and operate ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, which will become the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope operating at millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelengths. When complete in 2011, ALMA will be an array of 64, 12-meter radio antennas that will work together as one telescope to study millimeter and sub-millimeter wavelength radiation from space. These wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, which cross the critical boundary between infrared light and microwaves, hold the key to understanding such processes as planet and star formation, the formation of early galaxies and galaxy clusters, and the detection of organic and other molecules in space.
ESO and NRAO Press Releases, SC, NZ.

Another important telescope for the same site

could be the Large Atacama Telescope (LAT), a large infrared/sub-millimeter telescope with a 15 meter mirror that would address fundamental questions regarding cosmic origins: the Homepage and an Ithaka Times article.

CAIB adds prominent faces; more evidence for plasma burnthrough found

Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) Chairman Admiral Hal Gehman on March 5 asked NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to appoint three new members to the CAIB, and the appointments were immediately approved. The new members are: Nobel Prize laureate in Physics Douglas Osheroff; former NASA astronaut and physicist Dr. Sally Ride (who also served on the Challenger commission); and George Washington University Space Policy Institute Director Dr. John Logsdon, a frequent TV space pundit. Meanwhile 22,563 pieces of debris have been found, of which 16,063 have been identified: The debris collected so far weighs 14.5 metric tons, about 13.7 percent of Columbia's original weight. Among the latest discoveries: molten aluminum and aluminum oxide inside the left wing, confirming the idea that plasma entered the structure (somewhere) and destroyed it from within - and a left tire which apparently had exploded (while a right tire was not damaged).

Posted earlier

It's decided: Caretaker crew of two to man the ISS

The current ISS crew of 3 will be relieved in May by a Russian and an American, arriving with another Soyuz, and in October those will be replaced with another caretaker team of two. As it has become increasingly likely that no shuttles will fly in 2003, this plan is now official. It also means that the next paying passenger, ESA astronaut Pedro Duque, will only fly in October, while André Kuipers will go in spring 2004; both will stay onboard the ISS for one week, as was always planned. Christer Fuglesang, whose Shuttle flight to the ISS was originally scheduled for July 2003, is currently on standby and continues his training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. In other news the video tape recovered from Columbia's wreckage has now been released publicly; the quality is perfect for several minutes, but the recovered piece of tape ends 4 minutes before the reentry troubles began.

Posted in February

Strangely damaged heat tile found and other developments in the Columbia investigation

The investigation into the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia is increasing in depth as well as breadth, says retired Adm. Harold W. "Hal" Gehman, chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Most notably, at a press conference on Feb. 25, he showed photos of a piece of Columbia heat-resistant tile found just west of Fort Worth, Texas. The tile had grooves in the ends of its bottom side and orange-colored deposits on its outward-facing surface. Gehman said the tile had sustained extreme heat damage: "This is not re-entry heat damage." It remains to be determined, he added, how the damage to the tile occurred, as well as when and how the orange material was deposited. Gehman said debris continues to come in, and continues to be very important to the investigation. In terms of mass, approximately 10 percent of the orbiter has been recovered.

Gehman also discussed the western-most find of Shuttle debris to date, a piece of tile found about 40 miles northwest of Lubbock, Texas: He said the tile is believed to be from the upper surface of the left wing, near its attachment to the fuselage. Also found was a videotape shot onboard the orbiter during descent; no signs of trouble can be seen, but it ends before the problems began. CAIB members were asked about the object observed on radar moving away from the orbiting Shuttle on Jan. 17 and re-entering the atmosphere three days later over the South Pacific. Board members described it as a lightweight material, about 30 cm x 30 cm in size. An extensive analysis of radar data that began after the Columbia accident led to the discovery of the object on Feb. 6. That analysis is continuing in an effort to determine the identity of the object, which in all likelyhood came from Columbia itself and was not external space debris.

A new Website of the CAIB (including some transcripts of the press briefings and many photos), the Mishap Response Status Reports and NASA's Columbia site.

An ESA Release on further ISS visits, NASA Releases on new CAIB members and using a U-2 to search for debris, pictures of the strange tile damage [SN] and of Columbia in orbit [SN: visible and IR]. Also Science@NASA on having fun in the ISS ...

SN's Investigation Status Center and coverage of Mar. 6: SN, SC, AFP, FT 4, 3, 2, 1, UPI, WP 2, 1, NYT 3, 2, 1, UPI, Guardian, ST. Mar. 5: New Sci., SR, WP 2, 1, AFP, ST, NYT 2, 1, SC, FT, AD, NZ. Mar. 4: SN, CNN, FT, UPI, FT, AP 4, 3, 2, 1, WP, NYT 2, 1, ARRL. Mar. 3: SpRev 2, 1, Phil.Inq., SD, AD, FT, SC 2, 1, AP. Mar. 2: FT 2, 1, WP 4, 3, 2, 1, NYT 1, SR, AP. Mar. 1: FT 3, 2, 1, WP 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, AP, SC, ST, Welt.

Feb. 28: AW&ST, SN 2, 1, ST, BBC 2, 1, CNN, Rtr, AFP, UPI, NYT 4, 3, 2, 1, WP 2, 1, FT 2, 1, AP, SC 3, 2, 1, NZ 3, 2, 1, RP. Feb. 27: New Sci., SN 2, 1, FT 3, 2, 1, SC 2, 1, ST, AFP 2, 1, WP 3, 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, UPI, BBC, ABC, SD, RP, NZ 2, 1.

Feb. 26: SN 2, 1, ST 2, 1, SC, AFP 3, 2, 1, UPI, SC 2, 1, BBC, FT, WP, NYT, RP, NZ. Feb. 25: SN, New Sci., AP 1, UPI, SC, ST 2, 1, FT, WP 3, 2, 1, NYT 2, 1, CNN, Welt. Feb. 24: AFP, AP 4, 3, 2, 1, SC 3, 2, 1, NYT, ST. Feb. 23: JSR, AP, Rtr, WP 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, SD. Feb. 22: AW&ST, ST, FT 3, 2, 1, WP 3, 2, 1, NYT, SC, BBC, UPI, NZ.

Chinese scientists planning series of lunar missions

China may embark on a series of unmanned missions to the Moon if the government signs off on an exploration program proposed by Chinese scientists - the program in its current format does not include any manned missions to the Moon, though: CNN, AFP (earlier), New Sci., SN, Rtr, SC, ST. Shenzhou's changing face: SD.

Gravity Probe B in trouble - again

Gravity Probe B, a NASA mission to test Einstein's theory of relativity that has been more than four decades in the making, faces a launch delay of several months as well as an agency review that could lead to the project's cancellation: SC, ST.

CHIPS begins interstelar search for birthplace of solar systems - the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer (CHIPS) satellite is living up to the adage "good things come in small packages," as the suitcase-size spacecraft is entering its second month: NASA Release.

NASA ends communication with Pioneer 10

NASA announced on Feb. 20 that it plans no further efforts to communicate with the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched nearly 31 years ago and currently at the fringes of the solar system: Ames, NASA Press Releases, a farewell by van Allen himself and coverage by ST, New Sci., Plan. Soc., Ast., AP, BBC, Guardian, AFP 2, 1, SC, RP, Welt, NZ.

Why there were no 'mystery forces' pulling on Pioneer 10: the final version of a much-overlooked paper by Scheffer!

A search for more satellites of Pluto will be undertaken in advance of the New Horizons mission: New Hor. Press Release, ST, Ast., SC, NZ. Mission funding secured in NASA FY 2003 budget: SD, Plan. Soc. Release, SC (earlier), NZ. Definition of 'planet' discussed again: Berkeley News, SC.

Mars may have liquid iron core

Three years of radio tracking data from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show that Mars has not cooled to a completely solid iron core; rather its interior is made up of either a completely liquid iron core or a liquid outer core with a solid inner core: JPL, NASA Releases, NYT, ST, SC, NZ.

First Mars Exploration Rover arrives at Cape for launch in May: KSC Release. Beagle 2 fitted to Mars Express: BBC.

Lunar 'flash' story fades away

The alleged Clementine proof of a lunar impact just 50 years ago has collapsed since the bright feature already existed before the flash picture was taken: S&T. But the NYT still falls for the story ...

Controversy over NEO secrecy stirred by ill-worded statements: CNN and CCNet of Feb. 25, 24, 17, 15 and 14.

Preparing MUSES-C for its May launch - an update on the Japanese asteroid sample return mission from ISAS.

Pretty pictures

  • The central region of NGC 1705, a dwarf galaxy: ESA HST Release.
  • Outer wisps in M 42, the Orion Nebula: APOD.
  • Anti-crepuscular rays from the setting Sun: APOD, BBC.

Eight new moons of Jupiter push tally to 48

The first 7 satellites were formally published on March 4, while the eighth was announced on March 5 - 2 of the new satellites follow prograde orbits around Jupiter, the others have distant retrograde orbits like the majority of the known irregular satellites of Jupiter: IfA Press Release and coverage (mostly overlooking the 48th moon) by Ast., SC, RP, NZ.

Rising storms revise story of Jupiter's stripes - pictures from the Cassini spacecraft show that individual storm cells of upwelling bright-white clouds, too small to see from Earth, pop up almost without exception in the dark belts: JPL Release, SC, NZ.

Galileo team disbanding as long Jupiter tour winds down

The flight team for NASA's Jupiter-orbiting Galileo spacecraft will cease operations on Friday, Feb. 28 after a final playback of scientific data from the robotic explorer's tape recorder: JPL Release, The Year on Galileo, S&T, BBC.

Massive Gas Cloud Around Jupiter discovered during the Cassini flyby - the source is Europa: JHU APL PR, New Sci., Ast., NZ.

Lunochod's chief designer is dead

Alexander Kemurdjian, the Chief Designer of the historic first rover on another world, the Soviet Lunokhod, died on Feburary 24 in his home city of St. Petersburg: Plan. Soc. Announcement.

SMART-1 may fly in mid-July - if the Ariane 5 has recovered by then: BBC.

Envisat celebrates first anniversary in space

The largest and most sophisticated Earth observation satellite ever built blazed a fiery trail into the night skies above French Guiana one year ago: ESA Release.

First SeaWinds data from ADEOS-2 promise to provide the highest resolution and broadest geographic coverage of ocean wind speed and direction etc.: JPL Release.

  • ESA opens ground station near Perth, Australia, for future interplanetary missions: ESA Release, NZ.
  • Orbital Recovery to work with Ariane 5, starting perhaps in 2005: Orbital Recov., Arianespace Press Releases, AFP.
  • Planetary Society's solar sail launch further delayed by Volna rocket worries: statement.
  • Signature of contracts for full development of the Vega small launcher and P80: ESA Release.
  • Celestron wins "Go-to" argument with Meade - a U.S. district court has ruled that Celestron's telescopes do not literally infringe upon a patent held by Meade Instruments: Ast.
  • Explosive regulations threaten to kill model rocketry as some solid-fueled motors are now classified as explosive material: SC.
  • Foton capsule auctioned off for $ 31,000: CollectSpace.


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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to dfischer@astro.uni-bonn.de!), Skyweek