Dig deep: Australia’s mining know-how makes it the perfect $150m partner for NASA’s Moon and Mars shots


Andrew Dempster, UNSW

In the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s meeting with US President Donald Trump, the Australian government announced on Sunday a commitment of A$150million “into our local businesses and new technologies that will support NASA on its inspirational campaign to return to the Moon and travel to Mars”.

It is unclear at this point where the government intends to spend this money, but there’s no harm in some reflective speculation.




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Because this new commitment is to deep space missions, clearly it is separate from the A$245 million being invested in Australia’s Smartsat Cooperative Research Centre or the A$4.5 million for the Centre for Cubesats, UAVs and their Applications, both of which are generally looking at applications in Earth orbit.

The funding should also be separate from that committed to two Australian Space Agency initiatives: the A$6 million Mission Control Centre for South Australia, and the A$4.5 million Robotics, Automation and Artificial Intelligence Command and Control Centre for Western Australia. Both of these centres could, however, be used in any planned Moon and Mars initiatives.

The funding allocation should also not include the money already committed to space projects by CSIRO under its Space Technology Future Science Platforms initiative.

Where should it be spent?

In thinking about where the money can be spent, it’s worth noting the brief is explicitly to “support NASA”. So, where could Australia help?

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, centrepiece of the Artemis mission, will need lots of technical support.
NASA

NASA’s two main lunar initiatives are the Lunar Gateway and Project Artemis, both of which have been mentioned in relation to Australia’s funding pledge. Mars may be the long-term destination, but the Moon is where it’s at right now.

The Lunar Gateway is infrastructure: a spacecraft placed in a halo orbit (always in view of Earth) that is sometimes as close as 3,000km to the Moon’s surface. It will be used as a hub for astronauts, equipment and communications, and a staging post for lunar landings and returns.

Artemis aims to use NASA’s large new rocket, the Space Launch System, to deliver astronauts, including the first woman to walk on the Moon, to the lunar surface by 2024. It will develop a host of new technologies and is openly collaborative.




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Why isn’t Australia in deep space?


One contribution that cannot be ignored in this context is the technology emerging from Australia’s dominant mining industry. The strength in robotics, automation and remote operations has led to the above-mentioned robotics centre being slated for WA. What’s more, the Australian Remote Operations in Space and on Earth institute, a wide-ranging industry collaboration launched in July, is also likely to be headquartered in WA.

Another area where Australia is developing interesting technology is in optical communications with spacecraft, being driven by research at the Australian National University. At a recent CSIRO workshop to develop “flagship” missions for Australia, the idea of using lasers to beam communications rapidly to the Moon and back was highly rated.

Putting ideas out there

Of the nine possible flagships considered, seven are potentially relevant to the new funding. These include a space weather satellite, an asteroid detection system, a cubesat to Mars, a radiotelescope on the Moon, and a solar sail that could power spacecraft to the Moon. There are plenty of good Australian ideas around.

However, the flagship most closely related to the content of the announcement was a project proposal (disclosure: it’s mine!) that would place an orbiter around the Moon and design a lander/rover to establish our ability to extract water from permanent ice. Water can be used for many things in a settlement, and when split into hydrogen and oxygen it can be used as rocket fuel to move things around, including to Mars.




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All of our research in this area has focused on how this can be done in a commercial way, very much in line with the philosophy of “Space 2.0”. We are putting together a significant team of academics, companies (not just mining and space ones), and agencies to pursue these missions seriously.

There has never been a better time to be working in the space sector in Australia. I and all of my colleagues in the field hope the latest announcement is the next step in establishing the vibrant, sustainable space industry so many in Australia now see as achievable.The Conversation

Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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NASA and space tourists might be in our future but first we need to decide who can launch from Australia


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, May 2019.
NASA Kennedy , CC BY-NC-ND

Melissa de Zwart, University of Adelaide

In a sign the Australian Space Agency is already opening up new doors for Australian industry, NASA says it will be launching rockets from Arnhem Space Centre, in Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory, in 2020.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has also indicated she will encourage space tourism from Australia. She wants passengers to experience zero-gravity from the convenience of a domestic airport.




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But who gets to decide what can be launched into space? That depends on where the launch takes place, and in the case of Australia those rules are currently under review.

International treaty

The authority for who approves, supervises and grants permission for launch of space objects is based on UN treaties that provide a framework for international space law. The most important is the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which entered into force in 1967.

Article VI of the OST provides that nation states (that is, countries) bear “international responsibility” for “national activities” undertaken in outer space by government and commercial users alike.

States remain responsible for activities undertaken by commercial entities – for example, companies such as SpaceX – and are obliged to undertake ongoing supervision of such activities.

How individual countries choose to conduct such supervision is left entirely up to them, but in most cases it is done by way of domestic space law.

Another international treaty, the Liability Convention provides that the liability of the state extends to all launches that are made from that state’s territory. For example, the US is legally responsible for all launches that take place from that country as well as for launches elsewhere that it procures.

This imposes a significant burden on the state to ensure that international requirements are complied with.

Domestic space law regulates matters such as the granting of launch permits, and insurance and indemnity requirements. In Australia, this is achieved through the Space Activities (Launches and Returns) Act 2018. In New Zealand, the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017, applies.

The Starlink network

In the US, it’s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that gave Elon Musk’s SpaceX permission to launch thousands of Starlink satellites as part of a plan to create a low-orbit internet network.

The licence is for one constellation of 4,409 satellites and a second constellation of 7,518 satellites. The FCC requires launch of half of the total number planned within six years.

The first 60 satellites were launched into orbit last month, and have already given rise to a number of concerns.




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Scientists and astronomers are worried such a large constellation of satellites will be visible to the naked eye in the night sky. In response, Musk has already agreed to make the next batch less shiny.

Penalties apply

As well as granting launch licences, the FCC can also issue fines for any unlicensed launch by US operators.

Swarm Technologies launched four SpaceBee satellites from India in January 2018, after having been denied a licence from the FCC. The FCC was concerned the satellites were too small to be effectively tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network.

FCC subsequently fined Swarm US$900,000, partly as a way to spread the word that licensing of launching is a serious business but because the company had also performed other activities that required FCC authorisation.

In addition to presenting issues for tracking, new satellites also presented a hazard in terms of their potential to create large debris fields.

Notably, there are no binding international laws with respect to the creation of space debris. There are non-binding Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines issued by the UN Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. But these are only guidelines and are frequently overlooked in the interests of commercial expediency.

The 2018 Australian Act does require the applicant for various Australian licences (such as a launch permit) to include “a strategy for debris mitigation”. This may include, for example, a plan to de-orbit the satellite after a certain number of years.

Launches from Australia

Australia’s first claim to fame as a space-faring nation was the launch of WRESAT (the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite) from Woomera, South Australia, in 1967.

But the launch platforms on nearby Lake Hart were dismantled following the departure to French Guiana in 1971 of the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) – whose name ELDO still graces the sole hotel in Woomera, in outback South Australia.

The ELDO hotel in Woomera.
Flickr/kool skatkat, CC BY-NC-ND

From this time until the late 1990s there was little interest in space launches from Australia.




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The Space Activities Act 1998 was enacted in response to a brief interest in US company Kistler Aerospace developing a spaceport at Woomera, SA.

But no spaceport was constructed nor any launches conducted. A review of the Space Activities Act and of the Australian space industry in 2016-2017 led to the new Space Activities (Launches and Returns) Act in 2018.

This Act envisions a broader role for domestic space industries, including but not limited to, launch.

The rules which flesh out the details of the application of that licensing regime are currently open for public review and comment. The deadline for making a submission closes at the end of this week.The Conversation

Melissa de Zwart, Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia is still listening to Voyager 2 as NASA confirms the probe is now in interstellar space



File 20181210 76968 fmrjil.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Both Voyagers are now in interstellar space.
NASA

Douglas Bock, CSIRO

NASA has confirmed that Voyager 2 has joined its twin to become only the second spacecraft to enter interstellar space – where the Sun’s flow of material and magnetic field no longer affect its surroundings. The slightly faster Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in August 2012.

Voyager 2 is about 18 billion kilometres from Earth and still sending back data that are picked up by radio telescopes in Australia.

Mission scientists had been closely monitoring the spacecraft for signs that it had exited the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun as we move through our galaxy.




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Data from Voyager 2 indicate an increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft’s detectors. These fast-moving particles are known to originate outside our solar system.

Voyager 1 experienced a similar increase about three months before it crossed the heliopause, the boundary of the heliosphere.

Scientists for Voyager 2 detected a steep drop in the speed of solar wind particles on November 5, and no solar wind flow at all in the spacecraft’s environment since then. This makes them confident the spacecraft has entered interstellar space.

This artist’s concept shows Voyager and the outer layers of our solar bubble, or heliosphere, and nearby interstellar space.
NASA/JPL-Caltech, NASA/JPL-Caltech Photojournal

Still operational, just

Unfortunately not all of Voyager 2’s instruments are still operational. Its on-board data recorder failed many years ago, leaving the spacecraft with no option other than to transmit all of its data back to Earth in real time.

This means that if the spacecraft isn’t being tracked, its data aren’t being received and will be lost forever.

NASA’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), operated by CSIRO, has been providing command, telemetry and control for the twin Voyager spacecraft since their launch in 1977. This is part of its role as one of three tracking stations for NASA’s Deep Space Network. The other two are Goldstone in California and Madrid in Spain.

Communicating with Voyager 2 is challenging due to its location in the southern part of the Solar System, and its extreme distance from Earth (roughly 120 times that between the Sun and the Earth).

Voyager 2 transmits with a power of just 20 watts. By the time the signal reaches Earth nearly 16.5 hours later, it’s billions of times weaker than the power of a watch battery.

Only Australia is listening

Because of their location in the Southern Hemisphere and their large antennas, CDSCC and CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope are the only facilities in the world that can contact the spacecraft.

The Parkes radio telescope.
CSIRO, Author provided

To capture as much scientifically valuable data as possible during this crucial period in Voyager 2’s mission, NASA engaged CSIRO’s 64-metre Parkes radio telescope to combine forces with CDSCC’s 70-metre antenna, Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43).

After a week of testing, on November 8 the Parkes radio telescope started tracking Voyager 2 for 11 hours a day – the entire period it is above the local horizon. CDSCC’s DSS43 is also tracking Voyager 2 for a number of hours, both before and after Parkes, to expand the available observation time.

CDSCC’s 70-metre antenna, Deep Space Station 43.
CSIRO, Author provided

The data these two giant dishes are receiving will provide an enormous amount of new scientific information about this previously unsampled region of space.

The Parkes radio telescope has had a long partnership with the Voyager 2 mission. This will be the fourth time the telescope will have tracked the spacecraft. Parkes will continue partnering with CDSCC until late February to track Voyager 2.

Where no spacecraft has gone before

Both Voyager spacecraft have achieved far more than the science team on Earth could have ever expected. Launched in 1977, their prime mission was to investigate the four giant planets of our Solar System: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Farewell shot of crescent Uranus as Voyager 2 departs. January 25, 1986. Range 966,000 km (600,000 miles)
NASA

Voyager 1 and 2 both flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and a favourable planetary alignment allowed Voyager 2 to add Uranus and Neptune to its journey. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have visited these two gas giant worlds.

Voyager 2’s journey across the Solar System

  • 20 August 1977 – Launched from Earth at Cape Canaveral
  • July 1979 – fly by Jupiter
  • August 1981 – fly by Saturn
  • January 1986 – fly by Uranus

Since the Neptune encounter in 1989, both spacecraft have been on an extended mission through the outer regions of the Sun’s magnetic bubble, the heliosphere.

Neptune’s Great Dark Spot, accompanied by white high-altitude clouds.
NASA

While their cameras were turned off long ago, the spacecraft continue to return data from several instruments that are collecting information on the Sun’s magnetic field:

  • the distribution of hydrogen within the outer heliosphere
  • the composition and direction of the solar wind and interstellar cosmic rays
  • and the strength of radio emissions that are thought to be originating at the heliopause.

To conserve power and operate them for as long as possible, mission planners have been turning off various instruments.

However, it’s likely that by 2025, only one science instrument will still be operating and then once it’s switched off, only the transmitter will be on and returning engineering data into the early 2030s. At that point, they will fall silent, no longer able to communicate with Earth.

The next stop

Racing through interstellar space, both spacecraft will continue on their respective trajectories, Voyager 1 at 61,198kph (16.999km per second) and Voyager 2 at 55,347kph (15.374km per second).

Even at that speed, covering more than 1.4 million kilometres each day, neither spacecraft will come close to another star for at least another 40,000 years.




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The Voyager mission continues, orbiting the Milky Way galaxy every 225 million years and potentially encountering other star systems along the way.

Each spacecraft carries a golden record with images, music and information about planet Earth and its inhabitants. It’s a message in a bottle thrown into a vast cosmic ocean.The Conversation

The Golden Record cover shown with its extraterrestrial instructions.
NASA/JPL

Douglas Bock, Director of Astronomy and Space Science, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NASA’s planet-hunting spacecraft TESS is now on its mission to search for new worlds



File 20180419 163971 16jb1ut.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) successfully launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9.
NASA Television

Jonti Horner, University of Southern Queensland

The latest of NASA‘s incredible planet-hunting space telescopes was launched today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (or TESS to its friends), this exciting new mission promises to provide the next great leap forward in our understanding of our place in the universe.

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Over the next two years, TESS is likely to find thousands of new exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars – and will help to reveal the degree to which our Solar system is unique in the cosmos.




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In doing so, it will build on the fascinating results of the past few decades, cementing our place in the “Exoplanet Era”.

Illustration of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The Kepler revolution

At the end of 2008, the year before NASA’s earlier planet-hunting telescope Kepler launched, about 300 exoplanets had been discovered. Today, the number is an order of magnitude larger: more than 3,700.

Kepler discovered more than 2,300 exoplanets, with a further 2,200 or so “candidate” planets still awaiting followup. This incredible haul is the result of the spacecraft staring, unblinking, at the night sky, watching for the tiny flickers that reveal planets passing between us and their host stars.

An illustration of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft that carried out the first great census of the Exoplanet Era.
NASA Ames/ W Stenzel

In essence, Kepler carried out the first great census of the Exoplanet Era. It taught us that planets are ubiquitous – a standard and natural byproduct of the formation of stars.

But the vast majority of the stars around which Kepler found planets were very faint and very distant. This makes it a great challenge for observers on the ground to follow up on those discoveries and learn more about the planets the spacecraft revealed.

Along comes TESS

Whereas Kepler focused for four years on just one small patch of the northern sky, TESS will target stars across almost the whole night sky. In doing so, it will survey some of the brightest stars in the sky – making the task of following up on its myriad discoveries far easier.

TESS consists of four cameras, configured to give it an observation sector that covers an area slightly larger than a 90° arc on the sky.

Image showing how TESS’ four cameras will be used to survey the night sky, sector by sector.
NASA

TESS will watch that observation sector continually for just over 27 days, never blinking. The spacecraft will then pivot around, swinging to target its next sector.

In this manner, over the course of a year, the spacecraft will target almost the entirety of one hemisphere of the sky. After that, it will flip over, and spend the next year watching the other hemisphere.

TESS will cover much more than Kepler in its hunt for exoplanets.

For the first year TESS will be gazing to the south, scouring skies that are best seen from the southern hemisphere, finding planets orbiting the very stars you see when you step outside and look up at the night sky, right here in Australia.

Many stars, many planets?

TESS’s main mission will involve it observing a total of 200,000 stars, measuring their brightness every single minute that they fall within its field of view. To do this, it will process images before sending them back to Earth, extracting just the data on those stars to send back to the Earth.

TESS will also provide full-frame images (a picture of the spacecraft’s full field of view) every half an hour, yielding a trove of tens of millions of objects observed.

TESS will process data on board the spacecraft, to make the amount sent back to Earth manageable.
NASA

Put all that together, and the expected planet yield should be enormous. Based on the statistics of planet discoveries to date, it is likely that TESS will find at least a couple of thousand potential planets around its main target stars, while those in the full-frame images might yield tens of thousands of additional candidates.

These numbers are incredible, and TESS will revolutionise our understanding of our place in the universe. But such amazing results bring with them a unique problem – and one that we, in Australia, are ideally placed to help solve.

Too many planets, too little time

The reason that only half of the Kepler mission’s candidate planets have been confirmed is that doing so requires extensive follow-up work from the ground.

Astronomers have to rule out other effects that could cause the behaviour seen in the potential planet’s host star before we can be certain that we’re really seeing evidence of a new planet.

Most of the stars observed by Kepler are simply too faint for that kind of work to be carried out from the ground – except, perhaps, with the largest telescopes on the planet. Getting time on those telescopes is challenging – all of the world’s other astronomers covet that time too, for their own projects.

Quite simply, it is a case of too many planets, too little time.

Too many potential exoplanets, too little time.
NASA, ESA, and M. Kornmesser (ESO)

The problem is only going to get worse with TESS. When the first few planets were found, in the late 20th century, the discoveries came in a trickle. Those discoveries were easy for scientists to drink in and follow up, and all was good.

With Kepler, the discovery rate went through the roof. From a trickle, it was like someone had turned on a tap – a continual stream of new potential planets to study.

If Kepler was a tap, then TESS will be a fire hose, and there are simply too few telescopes available for us to use to study all of the planets TESS finds at once.

That is where the Australian connection comes to the fore – in the form of a dedicated new facility being built on the Darling Downs, in southeast Queensland.

The Australian connection – MINERVA-Australis

At the University of Southern Queensland, we are constructing MINERVA-Australis – a collection of six telescopes dedicated to nothing but the search for and characterisation of planets around other stars.

When TESS turns on the fire hose, finding thousands of planets in the southern sky, we stand ready. Every clear night, we will be observing those stars that TESS suggests could host planets, doing our utmost to confirm whether those planets really exist.




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Once we confirm TESS’s new discoveries, we will be able to use our facility to study the newly found worlds in more detail. By observing the planet’s transits, we can measure its physical size, by seeing how much of the light from its host the planet blocks.

In addition, we will be examining the light we receive from the star, measuring the telltale wobbles caused by the planet as it orbits its host. With those measurements, we will be able to calculate the planet’s mass.

Put the mass and the size together, and we can really begin to work out the planet’s true nature. Is it rocky (like the Earth), or gaseous, like Jupiter and Saturn?

Over the coming years, TESS will push the Exoplanet Era through its next great revolution – finding thousands or tens of thousands of new exoplanets. Here in southeast Queensland, we will be at the forefront of that journey of discovery, helping to reveal the true nature of those alien worlds.

The ConversationI don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn next!

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lunar missions could prove creation true


Current space programs may set their sights on Mars, but a team of astronomers and a biochemist at the science-faith think tank Reasons To Believe (RTB) publicly encourage NASA and other space agencies to revisit the lunar surface—to look for the remains of Earth’s oldest life-forms, reports Maureen Bell and Kathy Ross, special to ASSIST News Service.

Astronomer and RTB president Hugh Ross says, “The Apollo program helped researchers solve the mystery of the Moon’s origin. Return missions to the Moon could solve the mystery of life’s origin.”

According to biochemist Fazale Rana, “Chemical signatures confirm life was present on Earth in fair abundance back to 3.8 billion years ago.” What’s missing, he says, are the fossils. “Wind and water erosion and plate tectonics have destroyed the fossils of Earth’s first life. [But] there are good reasons to expect them in abundance in pristine forms on the Moon.”

Ross and fellow astronomer Jeff Zweerink point out that when the Earth was young, it was “bombarded” by asteroids and large meteorites. “These collisions sent large amounts of the Earth’s surface material into outer space, and much of that material landed on the Moon—about a million kilograms on every 100 square kilometers of the Moon’s surface.”

New research by British earth scientist Ian Crawford indicates that at least some of this Earth material made it to the Moon with its fossil structures still intact. Crawford affirms that “substantial survivability is to be expected.”

In their book Origins of Life, Rana and Ross present their model for the origin of life. This model, totally compatible with the Bible, predicts that (1) Earth’s first life would be both complex and diverse; and (2) the origin of life occurred suddenly, as soon as Earth’s physical conditions permitted. Non-theistic models predict the opposite.

As Ross stated in a lecture at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, “We are thrilled with the prospect that lunar missions could put our creation model to the test, either affirming or showing us wrong. Finding and analyzing pristine fossils of Earth’s first life could help settle, finally, one of the great creation-evolution controversies.”

About Reasons To Believe

Reasons To Believe is a California-based science-faith think tank. Founded by Hugh Ross in 1986, the organization strives to demonstrate that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies. Through myriad resources—including books, print periodicals, podcasts, and a content-rich website—speaking engagements, and radio and TV interviews, RTB scholars present reasons for confidence in the findings of science and in the authority of the Bible. For more information and resources, visit www.reasons.org

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

SPACE: SATELLITES CRASH


In out of this world news, two satellites have crashed in orbit around the earth. The accident occurred 800 km above Siberia on Wednesday according to NASA. A massive debris cloud resulted from the collision of the two satellites.

The collision occurred between an Iridium commercial satellite (launched in 1997) and an obsolete Russian satellite (launched in 1993).

HUBBLE TELESCOPE: PHOTOS OF FOMALHAUT PLANET


NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has been used to take the first visible-light photograph of a planet orbiting a star outside of our Solar System. The photograph shows the planet known as Fomalhaut b orbiting the star Fomalhaut in the Piscis Australis (known as the ‘Southern Fish’), some 25 light-years away. Fomalhaut b is seen as a mere point of light in the photograph within an immense debris disk (similar to the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our Solar System) which measures some 21.5 billion miles across.

Fomalhaut b is estimated to be about three times the mass of Jupiter and is about 10.7 billion miles from Fomalhaut. It is thought that the planet would take some 872 years to orbit the star.

See images of Fomalhaut b at:
http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2008/39/image/

Information courtesy of Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and NASA. For more information visit Hubble Site and/or the NASA Press Release.

NASA: LATEST ON ‘TENTH PLANET’


On the 8th January 2005, scientists discovered that an object captured in time lapse images on the 21st October 2003 was in fact a tenth planet in our solar system while studying the images. The planet was known as 2003UB313 (Xena) and was photographed using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California. The tenth planet is now known as Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord and strife. Eris is thought to be a dwarf planet and to be slightly larger than Pluto (confirmed by the Hubble Space Telescope) at about 2400 km (1422 miles) in diameter.

On the outer edge of the solar system is a collection of objects (possibly 70 000) known as the Kuiper Belt (Kuiper Belt Objects – KBO). Most of these KBO are relatively small and some have names such as Sedna, Quaoar, Ixion, Varuna and Chaos.

Eris is thought to be about 97 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun (Pluto is 30 times the distance of the Earth to the Sun) – which means it is a very long way away from Earth (about 10 billion miles from Earth).

However, not all agree that Eris is a planet, preferring to call it a KBO. These same scientists generally regard Pluto as a KBO as well. Pluto is smaller than our moon and has its own moon which is called Charon.

In fact the International Astronomical Union (IAU) now recognizes both Pluto and Eris (along with another object known as MakeMake) as Plutoids. The IAU has assumed this role since 1919 and technically Pluto and Eris can no longer be considered planets.

Eris is the farthest known object in the solar system and is the third brightest of the objects in the Kuiper Belt and appears to be grey in colour. It is thought that there may be a methane frost covering the surface of the planet. It is the largest dwarf planet.

It is believed that Eris takes some 557 years to orbit the sun. It has one known moon known as Dysnomia (the name of the daughter of the goddess Eris). Dysnomia is about 175 km in diameter and is located about 37 370 km from Eris.

BELOW: Footage showing images related to Eris

For more information visit:

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2005/29jul_planetx.htm

It is also interesting to note that there are some 327 moons in our solar system.

For more information visit:

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/index.cfm

http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/release/iau0804/

http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/append7.html

Beyond our own solar system there are 319 known extrasolar planets – planets that orbit other stars (other than our Sun).

For more information visit:

http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/atlas/atlas_search.cfm

http://exoplanet.eu/ (Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia)

 

SNOW FALLING ON MARS … ALMOST


It has been widely reported on the news over the last day or so that it has been snowing on Mars… almost. The snow is apparently falling in the polar region where the Mars mission is located, but not actually hitting the ground. NASA is now investigating the tantalising possibility that snow may sometimes hit the ground.

BELOW: Footage of the media conference