April 15, 2012

Study on Extrasolar Planet Suggests that Our Solar System Structure is the Norm (Source: SpaceRef)
The EXOEarths team (Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto - CAUP), in collaboration with Geneva University, did a joint analysis of data from the HARPS spectrograph and the Kepler satellite. This analysis revealed that the orbits of other planetary systems are aligned, like in a disk, just like in our own Solar System.

Recently, the HARPS spectrograph and the Kepler satellite made a census of the planetary population around stars like our own, revealing a bounty of planetary systems. A follow-up study lead by members of the EXOEarths team (Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto - CAUP), in collaboration with Geneva University, did a joint analysis of the data which showed that the planetary orbits in a system are strongly aligned, like in a disk, just as we have in our own solar system. (4/15)

KSC Anything but a Ghost Town (Source: Florida Today)
A couple hundred people gathered in the domed planetarium of Brevard Community College on Friday night and talked space, and we all learned something, from the industry leaders on the stage to the space enthusiasts in the crowd at the college’s Space & Astronomy Lecture Series. We learned that Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are abuzz with activity and potential. It’s more subtle than the activity we are used to, with the occasional evidence of a thunderous space shuttle liftoff. But it is activity nonetheless.

The space center is headquarters for NASA’s most exciting new program, one aimed at flying U.S. astronauts on rockets and spacecraft designed, built and operated by private companies. Its team of about 8,600 workers also is upgrading the space shuttle launch complex and related facilities for future rockets capable of missions beyond Earth orbit. KSC is partnering with government agencies and private companies in novel ways to allow for others to utilize the unique resources of the spaceport for new ventures.

We learned that Florida is broadening and diversifying the kinds of space business it’s trying to build up. Unmanned aerial vehicles and tiny toy-block sized satellites that can fly in formation are just some of the growing areas of the industry that Florida will be involved in, in addition to securing more traditional launch work. The space program of the near future is going to be more fractured, more complex, more international and more commercial. (4/14)

Mysteriously Dark Mars Regions are Made of Glass (Source: New Scientist)
They look dark, but mysterious expanses on Mars are mainly made of glass forged in past volcanoes. The dark regions make up more than 10 million square kilometers of the Martian northern lowlands, but their composition wasn't clear. Past spectral measurements indicated that they are unlike dark regions found elsewhere on the Red Planet, which consist mainly of basalt.

Briony Horgan and Jim Bell analyzed near-infrared spectra of the regions, gathered by the Mars Express orbiter. They found absorption bands characteristic of the iron in volcanic glass, a shiny substance similar to obsidian that forms when magma cools too fast for its minerals to crystallize. The glass likely takes the form of sand-sized grains, as it does in glass-rich fields in Iceland. The spectra suggest the grains are coated with silica-rich "rinds". (4/15)

Doubts Linger About Space Station's Science Potential (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
After more than 12 years and at least $100 billion in construction costs, NASA leaders say the International Space Station finally is ready to bloom into the robust orbiting laboratory that agency leaders envisioned more than two decades ago. But doubts linger. More than a quarter of the space that NASA has designated for experiments sits empty. Much of the research done aboard the station deals with living and working in space — with marginal application back on Earth.

The nonprofit group that NASA chose to lure more research to the outpost has been plagued by internal strife and recently lost its director. And more broadly, questions remain about whether NASA can develop U.S. capability to send experiments up and bring them back to Earth — and whether, in fact, the station can live up to the promises that were used to justify its creation. "Now that NASA has finished ISS construction, I hope the incredible potential of ISS is not squandered," said U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, chair of the House science committee.

Privately, some NASA officials worry the outpost could feed into the agency's reputation as a "self-licking ice-cream cone" in that space-based experiments help NASA keep doing space-based experiments. Others note that station research — there have been about 500 American experiments and 800 international ones — has produced comparatively little scientific literature. Thomson Reuters Web of Science, which tracks such publications, has identified about 3,000 scientific articles that have resulted from station research. (4/15)

Annual Space Symposium This Week in Colorado Springs (Source: Denver Post)
The global space community gathers this week for the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Held at the Broadmoor Hotel, the four-day event routinely attracts 9,000 people from civil-, commercial- and military-space sectors. More than 100 presentations, workshops and panels are planned. Monday's agenda is focused on cyber- security. Launch providers take over Tuesday, along with talks by the commander of the U.S. Space Command and the NASA administrator.

Satellite operators take center stage Wednesday with two panels. Commercial human spaceflight also is featured. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the head of the Federal Aviation Administration's commercial space- transportation office will speak at a luncheon Thursday. Editor's note: I'll be present representing Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (4/15)

Editorial: Space Exploration Budget Cuts Would Doom Future Missions (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Space exploration continues to inspire children to become the scientists and engineers maintaining our nation's leadership in technical fields. Whether you're considering intellectual or economic achievements, space exploration plays a key role in making the United States a superpower. It enriches us still further by instilling pride in the nation. Space exploration is one of those rare government-supported efforts with virtually no downside. Our historic achievements in space continue to be worthy of pride and prove the U.S. can still do what no other nation can, even when events conspire to slow us down.

In general, our government gets this. We all know space exploration can't be cheap, but steady, modest support -- in good economic times and bad -- has brought enormous positive returns. Continuing support for planetary sciences has maintained our expertise and technological leadership. It has also allowed us to send rovers to Mars to discover incredible evidence of that planet's past habitability; to capture cometary dust and bring it back to Earth; to witness water geysers erupting on Saturn's moon Enceladus; and do dozens of other absolutely incredible things, all challenging and inspiring, that no other nation has done.

Almost as amazing is that these incredible discoveries, so defining of our country's technological expertise, are supported by a tiny fraction of the federal budget -- about four hundredths of one percent. Unfortunately, this may all change if we don't take action. The administration's proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year -- now in front of Congress -- includes a devastating 20 percent cut to planetary funding. A cut of that scale will eliminate several Mars missions, break international agreements that jointly support other missions, eliminate any large-scale "flagship" missions for the foreseeable future. Click here. (4/15)

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