RSSArchive for November, 2013

NASA Mars mission set for launch

A SPACECRAFT that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail is undergoing final preparations for a scheduled launch at 5:28am Sydney time (1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 in the USA) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will examine specific processes on Mars that led to the loss of much of its atmosphere. Data and analysis could tell planetary scientists the history of climate change on the Red Planet and provide further information on the history of planetary habitability.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unravelling the planetary puzzle about Mars’ past and present environments,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The knowledge we gain will build on past and current missions examining Mars and will help inform future missions to send humans to Mars.”

Artist's concept of MAVEN

MAVEN (artist’s concept) will arrive at Mars in September 2014 to begin a detailed study of the planet’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind. Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

2.5-tonne spacecraft will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars. After arriving in September 2014, MAVEN will settle into its elliptical science orbit.

Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary mission, MAVEN will observe all of Mars’ latitudes. Orbital altitudes will range from 150 kilometres to more than 6,100 kilometres. During the primary mission, MAVEN will execute five deep dip manoeuvres, descending to an altitude of 125 kilometres, which marks the lower boundary of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

MAVEN will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments to characterise the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars. The Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. And the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

More information: MAVEN mission

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Gallery: Supernova remnant B0049-73.6

THE PRECISE DETAILS of how massive stars explode at the end of their lives – a process known as a supernova – remains one of the biggest questions in astrophysics.

Located in the neighbouring galaxy of the Small Magellanic Cloud, this false-colour image shows the aftermath of such a supernova – an enormous, expanding debris cloud called a supernova remnant.

SNR B0049-73.6

Chandra X-ray Observatory image of supernova remnant SNR B0049-73.6, the aftermath of a stellar explosion. Image credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / Drew Univ. / S.Hendrick et al, Infrared: 2MASS / Umass / IPAC-Caltech / NASA / NSF

Known only by its catalogue number, SNR B0049-73.6, it provides astronomers with an excellent example with which to study the after effects of a supernova. Chandra observations of the motions and composition of the debris from the explosion support the view that the explosion was produced by the collapse of the core of a star.

In this image, X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite (purple) are combined with infrared data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, and blue).

More information and downloadable wallpapers images: nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/small-magellanic-cloud-supernova-remnant.html

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Gallery: The ‘Fireworks Galaxy’

NGC 6946 IS A MEDIUM-SIZED, face-on spiral galaxy located about 22 million light years away from Earth. In the past century, eight supernovae have been observed to explode in the arms of this galaxy. Chandra space telescope observations (coloured purple in this iamge) have, in fact, revealed three of the oldest supernovae ever detected at X-ray wavelengths, giving more credence to its nickname of the ‘Fireworks Galaxy.’ This composite image also includes optical data from the ground-based Gemini Observatory.

NGC 6949

NGC 6949, also known as the ‘Fireworks Galaxy’. Image credit: X-ray: NASA / CXC / MSSL / R.Soria et al, Optical: AURA / Gemini Obs

More information and downloadable wallpaper images: nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/fireworks-galaxy-ngc6946.html

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Olympic torch to go on a spacewalk

TWO RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS will carry the Olympic torch when they venture outside the International Space Station Saturday, November 9, for a six-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance work on the orbiting laboratory.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the spacewalk beginning at 1:00am Australian Eastern Summer Time.

Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will open the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment airlock at 1:30am and float outside for a brief photo opportunity with the unlit torch. They then will stow it back inside the airlock before they begin their chores 420 kilometres above Earth.

Expedition 38 flight members holding the Olympic torch

Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, left, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA, hold an Olympic torch that will be flown with them to the International Space Station, during a press conference held Wednesday, November 6, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The torch, an icon of international co-operation through sports competition, arrived at the space station Thursday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three crew members Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will return to Earth on Sunday, November 10, aboard another Soyuz spacecraft vehicle along with crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, Karen Nyberg of NASA, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

The spacewalk is a high-flying extension of a relay that began in Olympia, Greece, in October. The relay will culminate with the torch being used to light the Olympic flame at the February 7 opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This is not the first time that an Olympic torch has been carried into space, but it will be the first time in which one has been taken on a spacewalk.

After the photo opportunity, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will prepare a pointing platform on the hull of the station’s Zvezda service module for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate of a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package.

The spacewalk will be the 174th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Kotov’s career and the first for Ryazanskiy. This will be the eighth spacewalk conducted at the station this year. In December, Tyurin will accompany Kotov on his fifth spacewalk.

All the times of International Space Station programming, key Soyuz event coverage and other NASA Television programming can be found at: nasa.gov/stationnews