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 Post subject: Re: Space Is Deep
PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 10:53 pm 
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TESS, NASA's new planet hunter, will search for alien worlds around our nearest stars
Genelle Weule
1 hour ago

Astronomers hope the Transiting Survey Satellite (TESS) will find at least 20,000 new alien worlds.© Provided by ABC News

Astronomers hope the Transiting Survey Satellite (TESS) will find at least 20,000 new alien worlds.
Just a decade ago, we had no idea whether worlds with qualities like our own blue planet existed around other stars in the Milky Way.

That all changed with the launch of the Kepler space telescope in 2009.

At last count NASA's planet finder has helped identify 2,400 alien planets of all sizes, including entire solar systems, orbiting faraway stars.

"It's changed our view of planets, it's changed our view of our solar system and how common exoplanets are out there," said Brad Tucker of the Australian National University.

But even though Kepler has discovered a swag of planets, we still know very little about alien worlds because most of the ones we've found are too far away to be easily studied by ground-based telescopes for hints of life.

NASA's new planet hunting telescope promises to change that.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, is set to be launched at 8:30AM AEST this Tuesday from Cape Canaveral.

"It's going to be a discovery machine," Dr Tucker said. "Our number of exoplanets is going to go through the roof."

How to spot an alien next door

George Ricker, from the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is leading the mission.

"TESS will find planets that ultimately we hope will be reasonable targets for interstellar probes in the future," Dr Ricker said.

The minibus-sized craft is equipped with four wide field cameras that can see in the near-infrared spectrum, looking for dips in light as planets pass in front of their stars.

Instead of looking for faraway planets in a small patch of the sky, TESS will survey the whole sky — dividing it into 26 slabs. Starting with the southern hemisphere, the survey will take two years to complete, covering an area 400 times greater than Kepler.

It will also be in an orbit that comes to within 100,000 km of Earth (Kepler was about 10 million kilometres away) so it will be able to download a lot of data very quickly.

"In 30-minute samples, Kepler was able to look at about 170,000 stars. TESS will be able to look at 30-50 million stars in that period."

And that means a lot more planets.

"We should be able to find 20,000 planets of all sizes ranging from Jupiter-sized planets to planets the size of Earth or even the size of Mars."

These planets will be some of our closest neighbours, orbiting stars we can actually see when we look up at the sky.

"The host stars for those planets are generally about 100 times brighter than those found by Kepler because they are about 10 times closer in general."

And the closer the star, the easier it will be to see the planet's atmosphere as it passes in front of its sun.

"If you wanted to make these kind of measurements with the planetary systems discovered by Kepler you'd need a telescope 65 metres in diameter. That's just not practical now."

In particular, TESS will home in on stars called M-dwarfs or red dwarfs.

"More than 75 per cent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy are this type," Dr Ricker explained.

"They're a cool, red star, and from the small number of those that have been discovered by Kepler, it looks like they have about twice as many planets as stars like the Sun."

These stars are smaller and cooler than our Sun, so it may be easier to spot habitable planets, said astronomer Tim Bedding of the University of Sydney.

While there are portions of the sky that will be viewed for an entire year, in most cases TESS will focus on different slabs of sky each month. This means many of the planets it detects will have short orbits.

"Now a few weeks to a month around the sun is really hot. But a few weeks to a month around a red dwarf could still be quite pleasant in terms of temperature, if you like the Goldilocks zone," said Professor Bedding.

Planet hunters are more than planet hunters

While alien planet discoveries grab headlines, data from the planet hunters can tell us much more about other aspects of our galaxy and beyond.

Professor Bedding and colleagues used data from the Kepler spacecraft to discover a phenomenon known as star quakes in red giant stars. These oscillations tell us how old stars are and what will happen to our Sun.

Because TESS surveys the whole sky it will provide data on many more stars than Kepler did.

"If we can [study stars] from all directions in our galaxy we can understand how our galaxy formed and all the different parts formed in different order and how they came together," Professor Bedding explained.

Staring at bigger patches of the sky will also make it easier to see when stars blow up, says ANU's Dr Tucker, who studies supernovas found by Kepler.

"One of the cool things that've realised is we should discover some gravitational wave sources, kilonova, with TESS," Dr Tucker said.

But the Holy Grail for Professor Ricker would be to discover something completely unpredictable.

"There are so many things that TESS may find that are related to exoplanets and phenomenon we know already," he said.

"If you think of the discovery space TESS will be able to explore ... there's lots and lots of objects that may lie in that space and we just have no idea they're actually there."

Australian telescopes will play role in discoveries

TESS will send its data back down to Earth using NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Madrid, and California.

From there, astronomers will follow up TESS's discoveries using ground-based telescopes as well as other space telescopes such as the future James Webb Space Telescope.

While Kepler's planets could only be viewed by telescopes in the northern hemisphere, TESS will discover planets that can be seen in the southern hemisphere.

"One of the problems that we had with Kepler is that it looked at this really small patch of the sky, so unless your telescope was in the right position with the right instrument there you won't see it.

"[TESS] is going to be looking all over so we can have instruments all over the world looking in different ways and shapes to follow up what it discovers," Dr Tucker says.

One of the Australian projects that will follow up TESS's discoveries is called Funnelweb.

It will use the UK Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, to examine the light coming from nearby stars using an instrument called TAIPAN, Professor Bedding said.

"It has a spectrograph inside it with fibres that can position themselves called star bugs. They can move around and get themselves in the right spot where the star is," he said.

Countdown to launch

The little satellite with the big mission is currently awaiting launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Once blasted into space, it will eventually sit in a special orbit (red) that goes out to 250,000 kilometres then sweeps back to within 100,000 kilometres of Earth.

During one of its early orbits (green) it will be flung by gravity from the Moon (yellow) into a final position that ensures it continuously views the sky, and its solar panels always get light.

This stable 13.7 day "lunar resonant" orbit, which has never been tried before, should allow TESS to operate for well beyond two years, said Professor Ricker.

"We think that if things go the way they should and things work the way they should then we could probably operate for up to 20 years," he said.

Kepler's mission, in the meantime, is slowly drawing to an end.

Although about to start a new campaign, it is gradually running out of fuel and drifting further away from Earth.

But having the two craft in space together, albeit for a short time, is exciting, said Dr Tucker.

"The original view is that there would be a big gap between the two.

"Now they technically might actually overlap which is something that we never thought was going to be possible," he said.

ABC News ... ocid=ientp

hey punk, where you going with that borscht on your shirt?

 Post subject: Re: Space Is Deep
PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 3:58 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 03, 2005 7:51 pm
Posts: 26597
Location: >>==> Wellington New Zealand
Life on Mars? Scientists close to solving mystery of the red planet
Robin McKie Science Editor
© NASA/JPL-Caltech
A computer generated image of the rim of the red planet Mars. Scientists have begun an experiment aimed at solving one of astronomy’s most intriguing puzzles: the great Martian methane mystery.

In the next few months they hope to determine whether tantalising whiffs of the gas that have been detected on the red planet in recent years are geological in origin – or are produced by living organisms.

On Earth, methane is produced mostly by microbes, although the gas can also be generated by relatively simple geological processes underground. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been manoeuvring itself above Mars for more than a year, has been designed to determine which of these sources is responsible for the planet’s methane. Last week sensors on the craft were deployed and began making their first measurements of the planet’s atmosphere.

“If we find traces of methane that are mixed with more complex organic molecules, it will be a strong sign that methane on Mars has a biological source and that it is being produced – or was once produced – by living organisms,” said Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at the European Space Agency.

“However, if we find it is mixed with gases such as sulphur dioxide, that will suggest its source is geological, not biological. In addition, methane made biologically tends to contain lighter isotopes of the element carbon than methane that is made geologically.”

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter was blasted towards Mars on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in March 2016. The robot spacecraft – a joint European-Russian mission – reached its target seven months later and released a small lander, called Schiaparelli, which was designed to test heat shields and parachutes in preparation for future landings. However, the lander was destroyed when it crashed after its retro-thruster rockets shut off too early.

At the same time, the main orbiter swept into a highly elliptical path around Mars as planned.

Space engineers have since been altering that orbit – by repeatedly skimming the Martian atmosphere – so that the craft now circles the planet about 250 miles above the surface. A few days ago engineers pointed its instruments towards the planet and began taking measurements.

Scientists expect it will take more than a year to complete a full survey of the planet’s methane hotspots but are hopeful that within a month or two they will have a good idea if its source is biological or geological in origin.

Astronomers have found hints of methane on Mars on several previous occasions. In 2004, Europe’s Mars Express orbiter detected levels of methane in the atmosphere at about 10 parts in a billion. Ten years later, Nasa’s Curiosity rover recorded the presence of the gas on the surface. Crucially, atmospheric methane breaks up quickly in the presence of ultraviolet solar radiation. Its continued presence on Mars therefore suggests it is being replenished from a source somewhere on the planet.

“We will look at sunlight as it passes through the Martian atmosphere and study how it is absorbed by methane molecules there,” said Håkan Svedhem, the orbiter’s project scientist. “We should be able to detect the presence of the gas to an accuracy of one molecule in every 10 billion molecules.”

If the methane is found to be biological in origin, two scenarios will have to be considered: either long-extinct microbes, which disappeared millions of years ago, have left the methane to seep slowly to the surface – or some very resistant methane-producing organisms still survive underground. “Life could still be clinging on under the Martian surface,” said Svedhem.

However, if the gas is found to be geological in origin, the discovery could still have important implications. On Earth, methane is produced – geologically – by a process known as “serpentinisation” which occurs when olivine, a mineral present on Mars, reacts with water.

“If we do find that methane is produced by geochemical processes on Mars, that will at least indicate that there must be liquid water beneath the planet’s surface – and given that water is crucial to life as we know it, that would be good news for those of us hoping to find living organisms on Mars one day,” said McCaughrean. ... ocid=ientp

hey punk, where you going with that borscht on your shirt?

 Post subject: Re: Space Is Deep
PostPosted: Fri May 11, 2018 8:43 am 
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SpaceX to Attempt Debut Launch of Upgraded Falcon 9 Again Today
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer | May 11, 2018 12:21pm ET

MORE HERE ... h-2017.jpg
SpaceX will try again today (May 11) to launch its first-ever "Block 5" Falcon 9 rocket, and you can watch the action live.

The Block 5 — the latest and final version of the workhorse Falcon 9 — was scheduled to launch the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 yesterday (May 10) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. But an as-yet-undisclosed issue triggered an automatic abort just 58 seconds from liftoff, pushing the attempt back a day.

Launch is now targeted for 4:14 p.m. EDT (2014 GMT) today from KSC's historic Pad 39A, which once hosted liftoffs for NASA's space shuttle and Apollo programs. You can watch it live here at, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via SpaceX's website, beginning about 20 minutes before liftoff. The action will include a landing attempt by the two-stage rocket's first stage on a ship at sea.

Lesser-evilism is war.

 Post subject: Re: Space Is Deep
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 9:33 pm 
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Joined: Mon Apr 03, 2006 9:28 pm
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Location: in the tiny dirt somewhere
In the early-morning hours of May 5th, NASA launched a rocket from the Vandenberg Launch Complex in southern California. The rocket deployed three spacecraft - the InSight Mars lander and two satellites designated MarCO-A and MarCO-B - and sent them on their way to Mars.

Four days later, MarCO-B took this picture to check the deployment of an antenna. The antenna, shown on the right, was indeed deployed successfully. But the interesting part is the images of the Earth and the Moon, from a distance of about a million kilometers...

I'm petulant, and I'm having a frenzy...

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