2012: Fear No Supernova

Given the incredible amounts of energy in a supernova explosion – as much as the sun creates during its entire lifetime – another erroneous doomsday theory is that such an explosion could happen in 2012 and harm life on Earth. However, given the vastness of space and the long times between supernovae, astronomers can say with certainty that there is no threatening star close enough to hurt Earth.

Astronomers estimate that, on average, about one or two supernovae explode each century in our galaxy. But for Earth's ozone layer to experience damage from a supernova, the blast must occur less than 50 light-years away. All of the nearby stars capable of going supernova are much farther than this.

Any planet with life on it near a star that goes supernova would indeed experience problems. X- and gamma-ray radiation from the supernova could damage the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful ultraviolet light in the sun's rays. The less ozone there is, the more UV light reaches the surface. At some wavelengths, just a 10 percent increase in ground-level UV can be lethal to some organisms, including phytoplankton near the ocean surface. Because these organisms form the basis of oxygen production on Earth and the marine food chain, any significant disruption to them could cascade into a planet-wide problem.

Another explosive event, called a gamma-ray burst (GRB), is often associated with supernovae. When a massive star collapses on itself -- or, less frequently, when two compact neutron stars collide -- the result is the birth of a black hole. As matter falls toward a nascent black hole, some of it becomes accelerated into a particle jet so powerful that it can drill its way completely through the star before the star's outermost layers even have begun to collapse. If one of the jets happens to be directed toward Earth, orbiting satellites detect a burst of highly energetic gamma rays somewhere in the sky. These bursts occur almost daily and are so powerful that they can be seen across billions of light-years.

A gamma-ray burst could affect Earth in much the same way as a supernova -- and at much greater distance -- but only if its jet is directly pointed our way. Astronomers estimate that a gamma-ray burst could affect Earth from up to 10,000 light-years away with each separated by about 15 million years, on average. So far, the closest burst on record, known as GRB 031203, was 1.3 billion light-years away.

As with impacts, our planet likely has already experienced such events over its long history, but there's no reason to expect a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy to occur in the near future, much less in December 2012.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-supernova.html

The new trend of beach wedding dress

In recent days a new trend of beach wedding accepted between many people. Dissimilar from the customary formal church wedding, the beach wedding distinguish more enjoyment and Joy. In adding up the white sand, gentle breeze and awesome sea will all make the wedding more idealistic.

As like as choosing the evening gowns for special evening occasion, the beach wedding dresses should be choose. In common, the beach wedding dresses are especially planned for the beach wedding. So, they may be dissimilar from other dresses. This dress appears very simple and makes the wedding more pleasure. The dress with high decorations may make the bride to feel hot during summer.

Apart from the easy line cut, the cloth is also a significant issue. There are many clothes can be useful to the bridal gown, however for the beach weddings, the light fabrics are very much appreciated. In the meantime, the cloth should be air porous.

Find your Perfect wedding Shoes.


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Dawn Obtains First Low Altitude Images of Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta from its low-altitude mapping orbit. The images, obtained by the framing camera, show the stippled and lumpy surface in detail never seen before, piquing the curiosity of scientists who are studying Vesta for clues about the solar system's early history.

At this detailed resolution, the surface shows abundant small craters, and textures such as small grooves and lineaments that are reminiscent of the structures seen in low-resolution data from the higher-altitude orbits. Also, this fine scale highlights small outcrops of bright and dark material.

A gallery of images can be found online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/multimedia/gallery-index.html .

The images were returned to Earth on Dec. 13. Dawn scientists plan to acquire data in the low-altitude mapping orbit for at least 10 weeks. The primary science objectives in this orbit are to learn about the elemental composition of Vesta's surface with the gamma ray and neutron detector and to probe the interior structure of the asteroid by measuring the gravity field.

The Dawn mission to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn Framing Cameras have been developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20111221.html

Satellite Data Shows that Kirtland’s Warblers Prefer Forests After Fire

Kirtland’s warblers are an endangered species of lightweight little birds with bright yellow-bellies that summer in North America and winter in the Bahamas. But be it their winter or their summer home, a new study using data from NASA-built Landsat satellites shows that these warblers like to live in young forests and often forests that have been on fire.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Kirtland’s warblers as endangered in 1967 after a startling decline of over 50 percent in less than ten years. The little birds prefer to nest on the ground amidst large areas of relatively young jack pine trees, and these trees need fire to reproduce. When fires were dramatically suppressed in the 1960s across northern Michigan, Wisconsin and southern Ontario, the warbler’s habitat became scarce.

After an intensive recovery program that focused both on combating invasive cowbirds and managing controlled forest burns, and thus creating warbler-friendly jack pine habitat, the Kirtland’s warbler made an impressive comeback. By 1995 their numbers had tripled.

But those extensive efforts only occurred at the Kirtland’s summer home, so a team of researchers reviewed the conditions of many a warbler’s winter home – the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. They did this by painstakingly putting together Landsat data to create cloud-free images of the isle’s forest cover.

Tropical islands typically have cloud cover, so the team compiled many Landsat images with scenes where the clouds were in different places into one image of clear forest, said Eileen Helmer. She’s a member of the Landsat Science Team for the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

The researchers did this not just once, but ten times, obtaining a record that spans a 30-year time period. According to Helmer, this allows them to tell how long it had been since the forest was last disturbed by fire, crops or grazing.

What the scientists discovered was that, like in their summer homes, Kirtland’s warblers are found in young forests. On Eleuthera, these forests only occur after a disturbance of some sort – like fire, clearing for agriculture, or grazing. And grazing turns out to be a disturbance the warbler can live with just fine. Old forest whose underbrush has been munched on by goats provides the most suitable habitat for warblers, said Helmer.

The results, published in this month's issue of Biotropica, suggest that goat grazing stunts the forest regrowth, so that the tree height doesn’t exceed the height beyond which important fruit-bearing forage tree species are shaded out by taller woody species. Helmer said that understanding how and where the warbler's winter habitat occurs will help conservation efforts in the Bahamas.

Helmer said that a unique feature of warbler’s winter habitat is that the age of this forest correlates very strongly with its height. By tracking the age of the forest after a disturbance, she and her team determined forest height at different times. Helmer said they used image time-series data from Landsat and the Advance Land Imager (ALI) sensor aboard the Earth-Observing 1 (EO-1) satellite to essentially ‘stack’ many images over time. This project is the first time that forest height profiles have been successfully mapped by satellite imagery at a medium resolution that shows a broad area but still resolves human impacts on the land. As in the warbler case, understanding how a forest is put together in three dimensions is important for ecological studies. Helmer adds that this tool may be applied elsewhere around the world due to Landsat’s global coverage and policy of free access to data. Helmer will discuss mapping forest height at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 9.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/warblers.html

Expedition 29 Welcomes New Crewmates

The Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk mini-research module at 12:24 a.m. EST Wednesday. The trio launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday (10:14 a.m. Monday, Kazakhstan time).

After the hatches between Soyuz and station were opened at 2:39 a.m., Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum of NASA and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov welcomed the new flight engineers aboard for their four-month stay on the orbiting complex.

The six station crew members will have a little less than a week together as the Expedition 29 crew before Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov head home Monday aboard the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft that brought them to the station June 9. Their departure will mark the beginning of Expedition 30, under the command of Burbank. A formal change-of-command ceremony is planned for Sunday.

Three additional Expedition 30 flight engineers -- NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers -- are scheduled to launch to the station Dec. 21.

Burbank is making his third visit to the station. His previous two visits were both aboard space shuttle Atlantis. During the STS-106 mission in September 2000, he helped prepare the station for its first permanent crew. During STS-115 in September 2006, he conducted a 7-hour, 11-minute spacewalk that completed truss installation, activated the solar alpha rotary joint and enabled the solar arrays to be deployed.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition29/exp29_dock.html

Maintaining Crew Health One Step at a Time

While many of us may not like to exercise, imagine having to do it two hours every day. Astronauts on the International Space Station must exercise at least that much to stay fit. A new space station experiment is studying the difference between exercising on a treadmill in space and on Earth.

Biomechanical Analysis of Treadmill Exercise on the International Space Station, or Treadmill Kinematics, is the first rigorous investigation to determine the most beneficial treadmill exercise conditions to maintain or improve crew health during long-duration spaceflight.

"Exercise activities are developed under the assumption that walking and running in microgravity have the same training effects as under normal gravity," said John De Witt, principal investigator for the experiment with Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering Group in Houston. "However, if there is a difference, we will learn more about the effects, allowing us to develop appropriate exercise prescriptions to increase benefits to crew health and well-being."

Researchers are gathering video and data on the force the body exerts when the foot hits the ground while crew members run and walk on a treadmill at varying weights and speeds. This will determine joint motions and muscle functions that occur during normal exercise. Researchers also are comparing in-flight running styles with running styles on Earth.

"On the space station, locomotion -- running and walking movement -- occurs on a treadmill that isolates vibrations, which increases the potential for training differences in space," said De Witt. "The overall goal of the advanced exercise regimes for the crew members is to increase weight at the joints to provide a greater stimulus for bone and muscle health."

An earlier study on the space station titled Foot Reaction Forces During Space Flight, or Foot, measured foot forces on the previous version of the treadmill. "They weren’t enough to maintain bone," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Now we have a better treadmill, a better harness and improved protocols. They will help us determine how to arrive at future exploration destinations strong and ready to explore the surface."

While results of the Treadmill Kinematics analysis will be used to determine the best treadmill conditions for maintaining health during spaceflight, the data gathered may provide researchers with a better understanding of how exercise speed and external loads affect forces experienced by the joints and muscles on Earth.

Fore more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/Treadmill_Kinematics.html

Technology Innovation Magazine Highlights the International Space Station

The International Space Station didn't just make the cover story of the latest publication of NASA's Technology Innovation magazine, the entire issue was devoted to this amazing feat of collaboration and technology.

With assembly complete, the station can now fulfill its purpose as a testbed for research, innovation and technology development in microgravity, according to Joseph Parrish, NASA's deputy chief technologist. In the "Upfront with…" introduction to the magazine, Parrish shared the importance investment plays in moving forward as a global leader in aerospace technology.

"America is the nation we are today because of the technological investments made in the 1960s, because of the engineers and scientists of that generation and those policy makers who had the wisdom and foresight to make the investments required for our country to emerge as a global technological leader," said Parrish.

This sense of excitement as the investment in the space station turns to utilization echoes in the various articles from the issue. Contributors, such as Mark Uhran, NASA's International Space Station assistant associate administrator, shared their perspective on the space station's past and future, including opportunities available for research, technology and partnership.

In a piece titled "An Era of Opportunity, the International Space Station Begins its Next Stage of Partnership and Innovation," Uhran looked back at the developmental timeline that ultimately led to the station's creation. "While the design, assembly, and operations of the station to date are remarkable human achievements in their own right, the opening of the utilization era over the next decade presents unprecedented opportunities for partnerships to advance the research and development of space resources," said Uhran.

Other articles in the publication delve into the areas of scientific focus for research on the orbiting laboratory. These include biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, physical science, human research, technology and educational opportunities. The space station environment, which includes microgravity, extreme temperatures and radiation, provides a unique testing area with tremendous potential for discovery.

The feature titled "Biology in Orbit, How Research Partnerships Growing Plants, Cells, and Animals, and Testing New Drugs on the ISS Pays Off on Earth," spotlights how investigations in space can lead to real changes in everyday lives on the ground. From vaccine development to cell therapy, studies like Space Tissue Loss hold potential that is just starting to be tapped.

"This research helps us better understand adult stem cell biology and how to optimize our regenerative cell population," said Tom Cannon, vice president and co-founder of Tissue Genesis Inc. "This same cell population recovered from adipose tissue (fat) is currently in FDA clinical trials as we begin to translate its tremendous therapeutic potential into the clinic."

The space station's technological developments also can pay off with partnership dividends via industry products for Earth. For instance, a chemical sensor technology originally developed for aerospace fuel delivery safety found a second life as a "Lick and Stick" leak detection system. This technology is a core part of the Advanced Life Support System on the station, and on the ground is used to monitor hydrogen-powered concept cars, measure emissions and detect fires. You can read more in the related article "Innovative Research, 'Lick and Stick' Sensor Systems Enhance Safety and Performance."

Developments such as this sensor generate a ripple effect in related industries, according to Benjamin Ward, Ph.D., with Makel Engineering. "Our partnership with NASA in the development of the lick-and-stick technology has resulted in a wide range of sensor and smart systems products, which have generated a large percentage of company revenues and supported multiple engineering jobs," said Ward.

Inspiration, however, is not limited to corporate developments from station research. In fact, some of the greatest inventions and discoveries may result not from direct innovations, but from the inspirations generated from the educational efforts of the space station crew and their ground counterparts. Learning opportunities take center stage in the feature "Pen Caps and Nanoparticles, Inspiring, Engaging, and Educating the Next Generation through ISS Research."

"As you read about the wonders taking place now on [the] world's orbiting laboratory -- the International Space Station -- dare to dream about where these opportunities will take us over the next 10 or 25 years," said Parrish. "The possibilities are limitless!"

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/Innovation_Magazine.html

New Tool for Touring Mars Using Detailed Images

An improved tool debuts today for viewing channels, dunes, boulders and other features revealed in the huge image files from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The new tool, HiView, offers the best way to take a personal, virtual hike through any of thousands of square miles of Mars observed by HiRISE, seeing details as small as a desk. To watch the tutorial video and download the free HiView application, go to: http://www.uahirise.org/hiview/ .

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying Mars with an advanced set of instruments since 2006. It has returned more data about the planet than all other spacecraft combined. For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/ .

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft.

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For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/news/mro20111207.html

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NASA's Hubble Confirms That Galaxies Are the Ultimate Recyclers

New observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are expanding astronomers' understanding of the ways in which galaxies continuously recycle immense volumes of hydrogen gas and heavy elements. This process allows galaxies to build successive generations of stars stretching over billions of years.

This ongoing recycling keeps some galaxies from emptying their "fuel tanks" and stretches their star-forming epoch to over 10 billion years.

This conclusion is based on a series of Hubble Space Telescope observations that flexed the special capabilities of its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) to detect gas in the halo of our Milky Way and more than 40 other galaxies. Data from large ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona and Chile also contributed to the studies by measuring the properties of the galaxies.

Astronomers believe that the color and shape of a galaxy is largely controlled by gas flowing through an extended halo around it. The three studies investigated different aspects of the gas-recycling phenomenon.

The results are being published in three papers in the November 18 issue of Science magazine. The leaders of the three studies are Nicolas Lehner of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.; Jason Tumlinson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.; and Todd Tripp of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The COS observations of distant stars demonstrate that a large mass of clouds is falling through the giant halo of our Milky Way, fueling its ongoing star formation. These clouds of hot hydrogen reside within 20,000 light-years of the Milky Way disk and contain enough material to make 100 million suns. Some of this gas is recycled material that is continually being replenished by star formation and the explosive energy of novae and supernovae, which kicks chemically enriched gas back into the halo.

The COS observations also show halos of hot gas surrounding vigorous star-forming galaxies. These halos, rich in heavy elements, extend as much as 450,000 light-years beyond the visible portions of their galactic disks. The amount of heavy-element mass discovered far outside a galaxy came as a surprise. COS measured 10 million solar masses of oxygen in a galaxy's halo, which corresponds to about one billion solar masses of gas -- as much as in the entire space between stars in a galaxy’s disk.

Researchers also found that this gas is nearly absent from galaxies that have stopped forming stars. In these galaxies, the “recycling” process ignites a rapid firestorm of star birth which can blow away the remaining fuel, essentially turning off further star-birth activity.

This is evidence that gas pushed out of a galaxy, rather than pulled in from intergalactic space, determine a galaxy's fate."

The Hubble observations demonstrate that those galaxies forming stars at a very rapid rate, perhaps a hundred solar masses per year, can drive two-million-degree gas very far out into intergalactic space at speeds of up to two million miles per hour. That's fast enough for the gas to escape forever and never refuel the parent galaxy.

While hot gas "winds" from galaxies have been known for some time, the new COS observations reveal that hot outflows extend to much greater distances than previously thought and can carry a tremendous amount of mass out of a galaxy. Some of the hot gas is moving more slowly and could eventually be recycled. The observations show how gas-rich star-forming spiral galaxies can evolve to elliptical galaxies that no longer have star formation.

The light emitted by this hot plasma is invisible, so the researchers used COS to detect the presence of the gas by the way it absorbs certain colors of light from background quasars. Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe and are the brilliant cores of active galaxies that contain active central black holes. The quasars serve as distant lighthouse beacons that shine through the gas-rich "fog" of hot plasma encircling galaxies. At ultraviolet wavelengths, COS is sensitive to the presence of heavy elements, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and neon. COS's high sensitivity allows many galaxies to be studied that happen to lie in front of the much more distant quasars. The ionized heavy elements are markers for estimating how much mass is in a galaxy's halo.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/recyclers.html

New Space Station Camera Reveals the Cosmic Shore

Part of human fascination with space is the chance to look back at our own planet from afar. The unique vantage from the International Space Station affords a vista both breathtaking and scientifically illuminating.

Here on Earth, both scientists and spectators rely on the station's crew to record and transmit images and videos of what they see to share in their experience. Until recently, reduced lighting conditions at night, combined with insufficiently perceptive equipment, made some of the most beautiful views difficult to capture.

This changed with the arrival of the Super Sensitive High Definition TV, or SS-HDTV, camera on the space station. With the SS-HDTV, the crew can document new and more detailed footage of the dynamic interactions that take place in the area between the Earths' atmosphere and the vacuum of space, known as the cosmic shore.

According to Keiji Murakami, a senior engineer with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, this camera's superior recording capability opens up a significant window of observation. Some may not realize that the station orbits the Earth 16 times a day, experiencing multiple sunrises and sunsets during those 24 hours. The crew actually has a 50/50 chance of a night view. "Half of the Earth view from [station] is a night view. And the day view and night view are very different," said Murakami.

By October, JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa had logged more than 30 hours of video using the camera. While the Earth observations are an amazing sight, they are also an important part of the research goals for the space station. From images taken by crew members aboard station, scientists can research natural phenomena and man-made changes to the planet.

Japan Broadcasting Corp., or NHK, which is similar to the U.S.'s Public Broadcasting System, or PBS, aired the first public videos showing the SS-HDTV camera's capabilities Sept. 18, 2011. The resulting show was appropriately titled "The Cosmic Shore," and it thrilled audiences with a spectacular view of natural phenomena, such as aurora and lightning. Furukawa filmed and narrated the video footage, which also shared man-made wonders, like the lights of Japan at night, in greater detail than previously possible.

Murakami comments on the merit of the SS-HDTV camera system's ability to capture momentary phenomena, like meteors and sprites -- a form of upper atmospheric lightning. "Using this super sensitive camera, we have observed the lightning, sprite, aurora, meteor, noctilucent cloud and airglow," said Murakami. "The phenomena of the sprite has not yet been studied in high definition until now. The color video of the sprite was taken for the first time from space using this camera."

This advanced equipment belongs to JAXA, in cooperation with NHK, and enables recording of the elusive phenomena that occurs within low-light conditions using an Electron Multiplying Charged Coupled Device, or EM-CCD, sensor. After filming, the crew downlinks the videos to the ground using data-relay satellites.

The SS-HDTV also can advance astronomical observations, according to Murakami. This equipment will continue to operate on orbit indefinitely. Even if a failure should occur, there is a backup camera and Panasonic SD card recorder already aboard the station as a precaution. As with many facilities and technology on the space station, this camera provides another asset available to future researchers as they continue to explore the space environment using the orbiting laboratory.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/Cosmic_Shore.html

NASA's Chandra Contributes to Black Hole Birth Announcement

New details about the birth of a famous black hole that took place millions of years ago have been uncovered, thanks to a team of scientists who used data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as from radio, optical and other X-ray telescopes.

Over three decades ago, Stephen Hawking placed -- and eventually lost -- a bet against the existence of a black hole in Cygnus X-1. Today, astronomers are confident the Cygnus X-1 system contains a black hole, and with these latest studies they have remarkably precise values of its mass, spin, and distance from Earth. With these key pieces of information, the history of the black hole has been reconstructed.

"This new information gives us strong clues about how the black hole was born, what it weighed and how fast it was spinning," said author Mark Reid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass. "This is exciting because not much is known about the birth of black holes."

Reid led one of three papers -- all appearing in the November 10th issue of The Astrophysical Journal -- describing these new results on Cygnus X-1. The other papers were led by Jerome Orosz from San Diego State University and Lijun Gou, also from CfA.

Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole is in close orbit with a massive, blue companion star.

Using X-ray data from Chandra, the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, and the Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics, a team of scientists was able to determine the spin of Cygnus X-1 with unprecedented accuracy, showing that the black hole is spinning at very close to its maximum rate. Its event horizon -- the point of no return for material falling towards a black hole -- is spinning around more than 800 times a second.

An independent study that compared the evolutionary history of the companion star with theoretical models indicates that the black hole was born some 6 million years ago. In this relatively short time (in astronomical terms), the black hole could not have pulled in enough gas to ramp up its spin very much. The implication is that Cygnus X-1 was likely born spinning very quickly.

Using optical observations of the companion star and its motion around its unseen companion, the team made the most precise determination ever for the mass of Cygnus X-1, of 14.8 times the mass of the Sun. It was likely to have been almost this massive at birth, because of lack of time for it to grow appreciably.

"We now know that Cygnus X-1 is one of the most massive stellar black holes in the Galaxy," said Orosz. "And, it's spinning as fast as any black hole we've ever seen."

Knowledge of the mass, spin and charge gives a complete description of a black hole, according to the so-called "No Hair" theorem. This theory postulates that all other information aside from these parameters is lost for eternity behind the event horizon. The charge for an astronomical black hole is expected to be almost zero, so only the mass and spin are needed.

"It is amazing to me that we have a complete description of this asteroid-sized object that is thousands of light years away," said Gou. "This means astronomers have a more complete understanding of this black hole than any other in our Galaxy."

The team also announced that they have made the most accurate distance estimate yet of Cygnus X-1 using the National Radio Observatory's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The new distance is about 6,070 light years from Earth. This accurate distance was a crucial ingredient for making the precise mass and spin determinations.

The radio observations also measured the motion of Cygnus X-1 through space, and this was combined with its measured velocity to give the three-dimensional velocity and position of the black hole.

This work showed that Cygnus X-1 is moving very slowly with respect to the Milky Way, implying it did not receive a large "kick" at birth. This supports an earlier conjecture that Cygnus X-1 was not born in a supernova, but instead may have resulted from the dark collapse of a progenitor star without an explosion. The progenitor of Cygnus X-1 was likely an extremely massive star, which initially had a mass greater than about 100 times the sun before losing it in a vigorous stellar wind.

In 1974, soon after Cygnus X-1 became a good candidate for a black hole, Stephen Hawking placed a bet with fellow astrophysicist Kip Thorne, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, that Cygnus X-1 did not contain a black hole. This was treated as an insurance policy by Hawking, who had done a lot of work on black holes and general relativity.

By 1990, however, much more work on Cygnus X-1 had strengthened the evidence for it being a black hole. With the help of family, nurses, and friends, Hawking broke into Thorne's office, found the framed bet, and conceded.

"For forty years, Cygnus X-1 has been the iconic example of a black hole. However, despite Hawking's concession, I have never been completely convinced that it really does contain a black hole -- until now," said Thorne. "The data and modeling described in these three papers at last provide a completely definitive description of this binary system."

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/cygnusx1.html

Giant-Sized Webb Space Telescope Model to 'Land' in Baltimore

Baltimore's Maryland Science Center is going to be the "landing site" for the life-sized full-scale model of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, and it's free for all to see.

The Webb telescope life-sized model is as big as a tennis court, and its coming to the Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor from October 14 through 26, 2011. It's a chance for young and old to get a close-up look at the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope in the same size it will be launched into space.

The real James Webb Space Telescope is currently being built, but this model will be constructed in a couple of days. The real Webb will be the largest space telescope ever built. Once in orbit, the Webb telescope will look back in time more than 13 billion years to help us understand the formation of galaxies, stars and planets.

Experts will be on hand to discuss the Webb telescope's deep-space mission, how it will observe distant galaxies and nearby stars and planets, and the progress made to date in building the observatory. Spokespeople will also be available throughout the model exhibition.

The Maryland Science Center is located at 601 Light Street, Baltimore, Md. 21230. For directions and more information, call the center at 410-685-5225.

The full-scale model of the Webb telescope was built by NASA's prime contractor to provide a better understanding of the size, scale and complexity of the observatory. The model is constructed mainly of aluminum and steel, weighs 12,000 lbs., and is approximately 80 feet long, 40 feet wide and 40 feet tall. The model requires two trucks to ship it and assembly takes a crew of 12 approximately four days.

The Webb telescope will add to observations by earlier space telescopes, and stretch the frontiers of science with its discoveries. The model size shows telescope's complexity and how the observatory will enable the Webb telescope's unique mission.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/nasalife/features/webb-balto.html

New Study Shows Very First Stars Not Monstrous

The very first stars in our universe were not the behemoths scientists had once thought, according to new simulations performed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers "grew" stars in their computers, mimicking the conditions of our primordial universe. The simulations took weeks. When the scientists' concoctions were finally done, they were shocked by the results -- the full-grown stars were much smaller than expected.

Until now, it was widely believed that the first stars were the biggest of all, with masses hundreds of times that of our sun. The new research shows they are only tens of times the mass of sun; for example, the simulations produced one star that was as little as 43 solar masses.

"The first stars were definitely massive, but not to the extreme we thought before," said Takashi Hosokawa, an astronomer at JPL and lead author of the new study, appearing online Friday, Nov. 11 in the journal Science. "Our simulations reveal that the growth of these stars is stunted earlier than expected, resulting in smaller final sizes."

The early universe consisted of nothing more than thin clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms. A few hundred million years after its birth, the first stars began to ignite. How these first stars formed is still a mystery.

Astronomers know that all stars form out of collapsing clouds of gas. Gravity from a growing "seed" at the center of the cloud attracts more and more matter. For so-called normal stars like our sun, this process is aided by heavier elements such as carbon, which help to keep the gas falling onto the budding star cool enough to collapse. If the cloud gets too hot, the gas expands and escapes.

But, in the early universe, stars hadn't yet produced heavy elements. The very first stars had to form out of nothing but hydrogen and helium. Scientists had theorized that such stars would require even more mass to form, to compensate for the lack of heavy elements and their cooling power. At first, it was thought the stars might be as big as one thousand times the mass of our sun. Later, the models were refined and the first stars were estimated to be hundreds of solar masses.

"These stars keep getting smaller and smaller over time," said Takashi. "Now we think they are even less massive, only tens of solar masses."

The team's simulations reveal that matter in the vicinity of the forming stars heats up to higher temperatures than previously believed, as high as 50,000 Kelvin (90,000 degrees Fahrenheit), or 8.5 times the surface temperature of the sun. Gas this hot expands and escapes the gravity of the developing star, instead of falling back down onto it. This means the stars stop growing earlier than predicted, reaching smaller final sizes.

"This is definitely going to surprise some folks," said Harold Yorke, an astronomer at JPL and co-author of the study. "It was standard knowledge until now that the first stars had to be extremely massive."

The results also answer an enigma regarding the first stellar explosions, called supernovae. When massive stars blow up at the end of their lives, they spew ashes made of heavier elements into space. If the very first stars were the monsters once thought, they should have left a specific pattern of these elements imprinted on the material of the following generation of stars. But, as much as astronomers searched the oldest stars for this signature, they couldn't find it. The answer, it seems, is that it simply is not there. Because the first stars weren't as massive as previously thought, they would have blown up in a manner akin to the types of stellar explosions that we see today.

"I am sure there are more surprises in store for us regarding this exciting period of the universe," said Yorke. "NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be a valuable tool to observe this epoch of early star and galaxy formation."

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/universe20111110.html

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Potential New NASA Mission Would Reveal the Hearts of Undead Stars

Neutron stars have been called the zombies of the cosmos, shining on even though they're technically dead, and occasionally feeding on a neighboring star if it gets too close.

They are born when a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses under its own gravity, crushing the matter in its core and blasting away its outer layers in a supernova explosion that can outshine a billion suns.

The core, compressed by gravity to inconceivable density – one teaspoon would weigh about a billion tons on Earth – lives on as a neutron star. Although the nuclear fusion fires that sustained its parent star are extinguished, it still shines with heat left over from its explosive formation, and from radiation generated by its magnetic field, which became intensely concentrated as the core collapsed, and can be over a trillion times stronger than Earth's.

Although its parent star could easily have been more than a million miles across, a neutron star is only about the size of a city. However, its intense gravity makes it the ultimate trash compactor, capable of packing in an astonishing amount of matter, more than 1.4 times the content of the Sun, or at least 460,000 Earths.

"A neutron star is right at the threshold of matter as it can exist – if it gets any denser, it becomes a black hole," says Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Arzoumanian is Deputy Principal Investigator on a proposed mission called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) that would unveil the dark heart of a neutron star. "We have no way of creating neutron star interiors on Earth, so what happens to matter under such incredible pressure is a mystery – there are many theories about how it behaves. The closest we come to simulating these conditions is in particle accelerators that smash atoms together at almost the speed of light. However, these collisions are not an exact substitute – they only last a split second, and they generate temperatures that are much higher than what's inside neutron stars."

If NASA approves it for construction, the mission will be launched by the summer of 2016 and attached robotically to the International Space Station. In September 2011, NASA selected NICER for study as a potential Explorer Mission of Opportunity. The mission will receive $250,000 to conduct an 11-month implementation concept study. Five Mission of Opportunity proposals were selected from 20 submissions. Following the detailed studies, NASA plans to select for development one or more of the five Mission of Opportunity proposals in February 2013.

NICER's array of 56 telescopes will collect X-rays generated both from hotspots on a neutron star's surface and from its powerful magnetic field. There are two hotspots on a neutron star at opposite sides, one at each magnetic pole, the place where the star's intense magnetic field emerges from the surface. Here, particles trapped in the magnetic field rain down and generate X-rays when they strike the surface. X-rays are an energetic form of light invisible to human eyes but detectable by special instruments. As the hotspots rotate into our line of sight, they produce a pulse of light, like a lighthouse beam, giving rise to the stars' alternate name, pulsars.

Many pulsars flash several times per second, because of the rapid rotation they inherit as they are born. All stars rotate, and as the parent star's core shrinks, it spins faster, like a twirling ice skater pulling in her arms. A neutron star's powerful gravity can also pull in gas from a neighboring star if it orbits too closely. This infalling gas can spin up a neutron star to even higher speeds; some rotate hundreds of times per second.

The key to understanding how matter behaves inside a neutron star is pinning down the correct Equation Of State (EOS) that most accurately describes how matter responds to increasing pressure. Currently, there are many suggested EOSs, each proposing that matter can be compressed by different amounts inside neutron stars. Suppose you held two balls of the same size, but one was made of foam and the other was made of wood. You could squeeze the foam ball down to a smaller size than the wooden one. In the same way, an EOS that says matter is highly compressible will predict a smaller neutron star for a given mass than an EOS that says matter is less compressible.

So if researchers know a neutron star's mass, all they need to do is find out how big it is to get the correct EOS and unlock the secret of what matter does under extreme gravity. "The problem is that neutron stars are small, and much too far away to allow their sizes to be measured directly," says NICER Principal Investigator Dr. Keith Gendreau of NASA Goddard. "However, NICER will be the first mission that has enough sensitivity and time-resolution to figure out a neutron star's size indirectly. The key is to precisely measure how much the brightness of the X-rays changes as the neutron star rotates."

This change in brightness with time is called a star's light curve, and it appears as a wavy line on a graph.

Because neutron stars pack so much mass into such a tiny volume, they generate strong gravity that actually bends space (and distorts time) in accordance with Einstein's general theory of relativity. This warping of space enables researchers to determine a neutron star's mass if it has a nearby companion, either another neutron star or a white dwarf, a lower-density object that is the core remnant of a less-massive star. Neutron stars with these companions are actually fairly common.

The warping of space produces effects like an orbital shift called precession, which makes the orbit move like a hula-hoop around a dancer. Also, as the neutron star and its companion move around each other, they create ripples in space called gravitational waves. These waves carry away orbital energy, so the neutron star and its companion gradually move closer together and their orbit shrinks. NICER will measure these effects over time, and the greater these effects, the more mass the neutron star has.

Warped space also will let the NICER team figure out a neutron star's size. Suppose we have a neutron star lined up so that you can only see one hotspot, the one on the near side that faces us. As it rotates into view, the brightness increases until the hotspot is pointed directly at us, then the brightness decreases as it rotates away.

This alignment makes the star's brightness highly variable – it's quite bright when the hotspot is pointed at us, and very dim when the hotspot is on the far side out of our view. The drastic change in brightness produces a light curve with large waves, with deep troughs when the star is dim.

However, since light must follow the contours of space, warped space bends light. The distorted space around the neutron star bends its light so much that you can see parts of the far side, including the other hotspot. With the second hotspot visible, at least part of the time, you have bright light more often, so the brightness doesn't change as much. This makes a light curve that appears smoother, with smaller waves.

If a woman wearing stiletto heels walks on a trampoline, she will warp the surface more than if she wears snowshoes. In the same way, the more compact a neutron star is, the more it will bend space and light. This will allow us to see the far-side hotspot more often, which will make its X-ray brightness less variable, and the star will produce a smoother light curve.

The team has models that produce unique light curves for the various sizes predicted by different EOSs. By choosing the light curve that best matches the observed one, they will get the correct EOS and solve the riddle of matter on the edge of oblivion.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/nicer-science.html

NASA's Cassini Makes a New Pass at Enceladus

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will acquire the first detailed radar images of Saturn's moon Enceladus during a flyby on Sunday, Nov. 6. These will be the first high-resolution radar observations made of an icy moon other than Titan. The results will provide new information about the surface of Enceladus and enable researchers to compare its geological features as seen by radar with those of Titan.

The spacecraft will fly past Enceladus at a distance of about 300 miles (500 kilometers) at its closest point. During the encounter, Cassini's synthetic aperture radar will sweep across a long, narrow swath of the surface just north of the moon's south pole. Cassini will use other radar techniques to map much more of the surface of Enceladus at lower resolutions and determine some of the surface's physical properties as the spacecraft approaches and then speeds away from the icy body.

During this flyby, the mission's visible-light cameras will take images of Enceladus and its famous jets, and the composite infrared spectrometer will make new measurements of hot spots from which the jets emerge. Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph will also make distant observations of Saturn's moon Dione and its environment.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/cassini20111103.html

Spitzer Snaps a Picture of the Coolest of Companions

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a picture of a nearby star and its orbiting companion -- whose temperature is like a hot summer day in Arizona. "We have discovered a new record-holder for the coldest companion imaged outside of the solar system, which is nearly as cold as Earth," said Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and lead author of a pair of papers on the findings in The Astrophysical Journal. "We believe the object is a brown dwarf, but it could be a gas-giant planet as well."

Based on the infrared light that it emits, the cool object, named WD 0806-661 B, appears to have a temperature in the range of 80 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27 to 70 degrees Celsius). On the lower end, WD 0806-661 B offers a rather pleasant terrestrial temperature and is not even as warm as the human body. Researchers ballpark WD 0806-661 B's mass between six and nine Jupiters, which means it could still qualify as a planet, albeit a particularly hefty one made mostly of gas. Instead, they suspect it's a type of failed star, called a brown dwarf.

WD 0806-661 B probably belongs to a recently discovered new class of objects called Y dwarfs, the coldest category of brown dwarfs. Astronomers using NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) announced the unveiling of the first six Y dwarfs in August. Those objects do not orbit stars and instead are floating by themselves in space, unlike WD 0806-661 B. Together, WISE and Spitzer are proving complementary in tracking down ever-cooler brown dwarfs, all the way down to the Y class.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzer20111019b.html

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No of bedrooms:  6
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Space Observatory Provides Clues to Creation of Earth's Oceans

Astronomers have found a new cosmic source for the same kind of water that appeared on Earth billions of years ago and created the oceans. The findings may help explain how Earth's surface ended up covered in water.

New measurements from the Herschel Space Observatory show that comet Hartley 2, which comes from the distant Kuiper Belt, contains water with the same chemical signature as Earth's oceans. This remote region of the solar system, some 30 to 50 times as far away as the distance between Earth and the sun, is home to icy, rocky bodies including Pluto, other dwarf planets and innumerable comets.

"Our results with Herschel suggest that comets could have played a major role in bringing vast amounts of water to an early Earth," said Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-author of a new paper in the journal Nature, published online today, Oct. 5. "This finding substantially expands the reservoir of Earth ocean-like water in the solar system to now include icy bodies originating in the Kuiper Belt."

Scientists theorize Earth started out hot and dry, so that water critical for life must have been delivered millions of years later by asteroid and comet impacts. Until now, none of the comets previously studied contained water like Earth's. However, Herschel's observations of Hartley 2, the first in-depth look at water in a comet from the Kuiper Belt, paint a different picture.

Herschel peered into the comet's coma, or thin, gaseous atmosphere. The coma develops as frozen materials inside a comet vaporize while on approach to the sun. This glowing envelope surrounds the comet's "icy dirtball"-like core and streams behind the object in a characteristic tail.

Herschel detected the signature of vaporized water in this coma and, to the surprise of the scientists, Hartley 2 possessed half as much "heavy water" as other comets analyzed to date. In heavy water, one of the two normal hydrogen atoms has been replaced by the heavy hydrogen isotope known as deuterium. The ratio between heavy water and light, or regular, water in Hartley 2 is the same as the water on Earth's surface. The amount of heavy water in a comet is related to the environment where the comet formed.

By tracking the path of Hartley 2 as it swoops into Earth's neighborhood in the inner solar system every six-and-a-`half years, astronomers know that it comes from the Kuiper Belt. The five comets besides Hartley 2 whose heavy-water-to-regular-water ratios have been obtained all come from an even more distant region in the solar system called the Oort Cloud. This swarm of bodies, 10,000 times farther afield than the Kuiper Belt, is the wellspring for most documented comets.

Given the higher ratios of heavy water seen in Oort Cloud comets compared to Earth's oceans, astronomers had concluded that the contribution by comets to Earth's total water volume stood at approximately 10 percent. Asteroids, which are found mostly in a band between Mars and Jupiter but occasionally stray into Earth's vicinity, looked like the major depositors. The new results, however, point to Kuiper Belt comets having performed a previously underappreciated service in bearing water to Earth.

How these objects ever came to possess the telltale oceanic water is puzzling. Astronomers had expected Kuiper Belt comets to have even more heavy water than Oort Cloud comets because the latter are thought to have formed closer to the sun than those in the Kuiper Belt. Therefore, Oort Cloud bodies should have had less frozen heavy water locked in them prior to their ejection to the fringes as the solar system evolved.

"Our study indicates that our understanding of the distribution of the lightest elements and their isotopes, as well as the dynamics of the early solar system, is incomplete," said co-author Geoffrey Blake, professor of planetary science and chemistry at Caltech. "In the early solar system, comets and asteroids must have been moving all over the place, and it appears that some of them crash-landed on our planet and made our oceans."

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes. NASA's Herschel Project Office is based at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For More information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/herschel/news/herschel20111005.html