SPECIAL KUDOS to this one — Nature News – Ron Cowen: The wheels come off Kepler / Space telescope’s mission to find planets outside the Solar System is probably over ; Great hed, better content with an inquisitor’s tone. First however, it’s gotta be a tad weird being an American writer for Nature. One wonders if Ron, or one of the editors, made sure that the phrase familiar in American English as “checkered history” was rendered into the Brit-speak (ie real English) “chequered history.” But one or the other is what these reaction wheels have, he reports, and attributes it to Borucki who surely wasn’t thinking of the ..’qu..’ version when he said it. This should be the kick-off point for the upcoming and inevitable inquiry and search for lessons learned that may be underway already. Cowen’s list of missions whose engineers went without this kind of reaction wheel, deeming them too unreliable, is long enough to make one wonder. What were they thinking? The answer, to translate Cowen, is that they were thinking they’d better keep their fingers crossed. By the time they recognized the risks the spacecraft was already buttoned up and nearly ready for transport to the launch site.
A pair of just-released statistical studies of the universe suggest numerous habitable planets exist in our Galaxy, with one study suggesting a life-friendly planet within 20 light years of our Solar System. From my Nature article, Small stars host droves of life-friendly worlds, that broke news of this latter study, which used data from NASA’s Kepler telescope
The two Voyager spacecraft continue logging the miles…and the important data. Even after 35 years and billions of kilometers, they reveal new information about the solar system and communicating it back to Earth using the power equivalent of a refrigerator light bulb. Most recently, scientists have had to rework their models of the heliopause—the area at the edge of the Solar System. My recent article in Nature reports on the new Voyager data and its possibilities:
In the latest twist in the story, the craft seems to be traversing an unexpected ‘dead zone’ […]
Decker’s team first reported the change last year, when it had measurements of the particles’ velocity only in the radial direction, outwards from the Sun. At the time, the team thought that the change was a sign that the craft was nearing the heliopause, where solar particles are expected to collide with powerful winds generated by supernovae that exploded some 5 million to 10 million years ago. The collision would force the solar particles to stop moving outwards and push them sideways, like a stream of water hitting a solid surface.
To test the idea, engineers commanded Voyager 1 to roll on its side seven times, so that its instruments could record particle velocities along a line perpendicular to its course. Given that sending a command to Voyager 1 now takes 17 hours, and that the spacecraft’s transmitter runs at 23 watts — about as powerful as a refrigerator light bulb — such communication is a feat in itself. The researchers were astonished to find that the particles had zero velocity in this polar direction, too — indicating that they were almost stationary rather than being buffeted by stellar winds. That cannot happen at the heliopause, says Decker.
Ron Cowen: Voyager’s long goodbye ; Rather than a tumultuous region of shifting breezes, the probe seems to be in a relatively calm spot, a sort of dead zone, it says here. The researchers suspect the spacecraft, communicating over the vast gulf (Cowen writes) with a transmitter “about as powerful as a refrigerator light bulb,” is not even close to the heliopause.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft won’t end its 13-month-long visit to Vesta, the Solar System’s second biggest asteroid, until August, but researchers have now solidified the rock’s reputation as an archetype for understanding planetary evolution. In six reports in the 11 May edition of Science, Dawn mission scientists have confirmed several long-held assumptions about Vesta and detailed some puzzles about the roughly 520-kilometer-diameter body.
NatureNews (blog) Ron Cowen: Vesta confirmed as venerable planet progenitor ; the ‘confirmed’ in the hed is a good way to say this is not surprise news, but incremental news. Cowen, on constant prowl for news before it is wide news, includes a link to a previous post on Vesta’s topography and what it might mean, from meetings last fall.
[NatureNews’] ace scoop-hungry reporter Ron Cowen late last week filed on a report, at the preprint server for physics-related news arXiv, that a large international team has gotten an image of a galaxy as it was when the universe was a mere 490 million years old.
Cowen writes the story well, and includes the enticing angle that if NASA’s Webb Telescope survives its budgetary excesses and goes into operation, its large IR mirror should offer a much better look at this galaxy – dubbed MACS1149-JD1.
American Scientist republished part of the article as part of its Science in the News section, which is a roundup of the most important and exciting science news pieces.
The article was mentioned here, on my Tumblr site, shortly after publication.