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Ursid Meteor Shower Peaks: Here’s How to See It



Image: Geminid meteor shower
December is usually marked by a series of meteor showers. Geminid meteors (like the one seen in this picture of Florida) light up the skies at the beginning of the month, while the Ursids - which peak Monday night (Dec. 22) - put on a show just before Christmas.

Excerpt from space.com
 

The Ursid meteor shower peaks tonight, and it should be a great show. 

When skywatchers think of meteor showers during the month of December, the Geminid shower (which peaked earlier this month) usually comes to mind. But the Ursid meteor shower — peaking tonight and into the wee hours of Tuesday (Dec. 23) morning — should also offer skywatchers a good view this year. 

Even if you can't see tonight's meteor shower due to light pollution or bad weather, you can still catch the Ursids online thanks to the Slooh Community Observatory. Tune in for Slooh's Ursid meteor shower webcast tonight starting at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 23 GMT) live on Space.com. You can also watch the webcast directly through Slooh.
The Ursids are so named because they appear to fan out from the vicinity of the bright orange star Kochab, in the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Kochab is the brighter of the two outer stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper (the other being Pherkad), that seem to march in a circle like sentries around the North Star, Polaris. These meteors are sometimes called the Umids, in a rather unsuccessful attempt to make clear that their radiant is in Ursa Minor, not Ursa Major. 

The fact that Kochab is positioned so near to the north pole of the sky means that this star almost never sets for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere. And since the Ursids seem to fan out from this particular region of the sky, you have a reference point to look for these faint, medium-speed meteors all through the night if you care to. 

The fact that the shower peaks tonight is good news for observers braving the cold to see the display. The moon is just one day past its new phase, meaning that light reflected from Earth's natural satellite won't wash out the shower.

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Rosetta mission: Philae lander bounces twice, lands on side ~ Cliff face blocking solar power


How Esa scientists believe Philae has landed on the comet – on its side
How Esa scientists believe Philae has landed on the comet – on its side. Photograph: European Space Agency/Reuters


Excerpt from
theguardian.com


Rosetta mission controllers must decide whether to risk making lander hop from shadow of cliff blocking sunlight to its solar panels.


The robotic lander that touched down on a comet on Wednesday came to rest on its side in the shadow of a cliff, according to the first data beamed home from the probe.

Pictures from cameras on board the European Space Agency’s Philae lander show the machine with one foot in the sky and lodged against a high cliff face that is blocking sunlight to its solar panels.
The precarious resting place means mission controllers are faced with some tough decisions over whether to try and nudge the spacecraft into a sunnier spot. If successful, that would allow Philae to fully recharge its batteries and do more science on the comet, but any sudden move could risk toppling the lander over, or worse, knock it off the comet completely.

The washing machine-sized lander was released by its Rosetta mother ship at 0835am GMT on Wednesday morning and touched down at a perfect spot on the comet’s surface. But when anchoring harpoons failed to fire, the probe bounced back off into space. So weak is the gravitational pull of the comet that Philae soared 1km into the sky and did not come down again until two hours later. “We made quite a leap,” said Stephan Ulamec, the Philae lander manager.

In the time it took the probe to land for the second time, the comet had rotated, bringing more treacherous terrain underneath. The spacecraft bounced a second time and finally came to a standstill on its side at what may be the rim of an enormous crater.

“We bounced twice and stopped in a place we’ve not entirely located,” said Jean-Pierre Bibring, Philae’s lead scientist. Teams of scientists are now trying to work out where the probe is. What mission controllers do know is that they are not where they hoped to be. “We are exactly below a cliff, so we are in a shadow permanently,” Bibring added.

With most of Philae in the dark, the lander will receive only a fraction of the solar energy that Esa had hoped for. The spacecraft needs six or seven hours of sunlight a day but is expected to receive just one and a half. Though it can operate for 60 hours on primary batteries, the probe must then switch to its main batteries which need to be recharged through its solar arrays. If Philae’s batteries run out it will go into a hibernation mode until they have more power.

The spacecraft was designed with landing gear that could hop the probe around, but from its awkward position on its side the option is considered too risky.

Though caught in a tight spot, the Philae lander’s systems appear to be working well. The Rosetta spacecraft picked up the lander’s signal on Thursday morning and received the first images and more instrument data from the surface of the comet.

One of Philae’s major scientific goals is to analyse the comet for organic molecules. To do that, the lander must get samples from the comet into several different instruments, named Ptolemy, Cosac and Civa. There are two ways to do this: sniffing and drilling. Sniffing involves opening the instruments to allow molecules from the surface to drift inside. The instruments are already doing this and returning data.

Panoramic view around the point of Philae's final touchdown on the surface of comet 67P, taken when Rosetta was about 18km from centre of comet. Parts of Philae's landing gear can be seen in this picture.
Panoramic view around the point of Philae’s final touchdown on the surface of comet 67P, taken when Rosetta was about 18km from centre of comet. Parts of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in this picture.Photograph: European Space Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Drilling is much riskier because it could make the lander topple over... Pushing down into the surface will push the lander off again. “We don’t want to start drilling and end the mission,” said Bibring.
But the team has decided to operate another moving instrument, named Mupus, on Thursday evening. This could cause Philae to shift, but calculations show that it would be in a direction that could improve the amount of sunlight falling on the probe. A change in angle of only a few degrees could help. A new panoramic image will be taken after the Mupus deployment to see if there has been any movement.

Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter team will continue to try to pinpoint Philae’s position.

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European Space Agency: Rosetta Successfully Lands on Comet ~ First Images Sent to Earth

This photo from Philae shows the surface during the lander's approach  Excerpt from bbc.comA European robot probe has made the first, historic landing on a comet, but its status remains uncertain after harpoons failed to anchor it to the su...

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Homeless Stars? Well, Galaxy-less Stars Anyway ~ Greg Giles


Lonesome Stars
Time-lapse photograph of the CIBER rocket launch, taken from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, conclusions from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment or CIBER, suggest that as many as half of all stars in our universe may lie outside the home of galaxies. Not visible through Earth-bound telescopes due to their faint glow, these lone stars may be the points that connect galaxies together in a far spanning web of light.   

These 'homeless' stars are believed by astronomers to have been evicted by their galaxies by mergers and collisions.

NASA program scientist Michael Garcia said this dim glow between galaxies is as bright as all the known galaxies combined, and is redefining previous understandings of galactic structure. Instead of being defined by sharpened borders, galaxies may span further outward, thinning like a morning mist over a darkened pond.  
Greg Giles



Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/11/06/3958751/half-of-all-stars-may-lie-outside.html?sp=/99/101/235/#storylink=cpy

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Richard Branson: We owe it to test pilot to continue Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

Excerpt from smh.com.auThe Tony Blair grin was gone but Richard Branson was unbowed by disaster when he appeared on American breakfast television on Monday morning. He vowed his program to hurl paying customers into the...

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Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life

Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life
Brittany Maynard ~ Courtesy Brittany Maynard
Excerpt from People
by Nicole Weisensee Egan
Brittany Maynard, who became the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement over the last few weeks, ended her own life Saturday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 29.

"Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more," she wrote on Facebook. "The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

Doctors told Maynard she had six months to live last spring after she was diagnosed with a likely stage 4 glioblastoma. She made headlines around the world when she announced she intended to die – under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act – by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates, prescribed to her by a doctor, when her suffering became too great.

"My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that's out of my control," she told PEOPLE last month. "I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."

On Oct. 6, she launched an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding death-with-dignity laws nationwide.

"For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me," she told PEOPLE. "They try to mix it up with suicide and that's really unfair, because there's not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying."

Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life| Cancer, Health, Medicine, Real People Stories, Brittany Maynard
Brittany Maynard
Nigel Parry

A Heartbreaking Choice

Arriving at her decision was a gradual one, she said.

"It's not a decision you make one day and you snap your fingers," she told PEOPLE.

"Really, from the beginning, all the doctors said when you have a glioma you're going to die," she told PEOPLE. "You can just Google it. People don't survive this disease. Not yet."

After researching her options, she decided not to try chemotherapy or radiation.

"They didn't seem to make sense for me," she said, because of "the level of side effects I would suffer and it wouldn't save my life. I've been told pretty much no matter what, I'm going to die – and treatments would extend my life but affect the quality pretty negatively."

In June, she moved to Oregon with her husband, Dan Diaz, 43, her mother, Debbie Ziegler, 56 , and her stepfather, Gary Holmes, 72, so she could have access to the state's Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to certain terminally ill patients.

"I still smile and laugh with my family and friends enough that it doesn't seem like the right time now," she said in the video recorded Oct. 13 and 14, "but it will come because I feel myself getting sicker; it's happening each week."

Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life| Cancer, Health, Medicine, Real People Stories, Brittany Maynard
Brittany Maynard and Dan Diaz at Olympic National Park in Washington state in August
Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Her Final Months

Maynard spent the last months of her life making the most of the time she had left. She traveled to Alaska, British Columbia and Yellowstone National Park with her loved ones and explored more local attractions like Olympic National Park in Washington.

On Oct. 21, she and her family took a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, a place she'd been longing to see before she died.

"It was breathtakingly beautiful," she said in a statement.

The following morning, though, she had her "worst seizure" so far, she said: "The seizure was a harsh reminder that my symptoms continue to worsen as the tumor runs its course."

Maynard said she was deeply touched by the "outpouring of support" she got after going public with her diagnosis and her decision.

"I want to thank people for that, for the words of kindness, for the time they've taken in personal ways," she told PEOPLE.

"And then beyond that, to encourage people to make a difference," she said. "If they can relate to my story, if they agree with this issue on a philosophical level, to get out there and do what we need to do to make a change in this country."

Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life| Cancer, Health, Medicine, Real People Stories, Brittany Maynard
Brittany Maynard and her mother, Debbie Ziegler, in Alaska in May
Courtesy Brittany Maynard


Maynard also talked to PEOPLE about her legacy.

"For me what matters most is the way I'm remembered by my family and my husband as a good woman who did my best to be a good wife and a good daughter," she said.

"Beyond that, getting involved with this campaign, I hope to be making a difference here," she said. "If I'm leaving a legacy, it's to change this health-care policy or be a part of this change of this health-care policy so it becomes available to all Americans. That would be an enormous contribution to make, even if I'm just a piece of it."

Before she died, Maynard asked her husband and her mother if they would carry on the work she started to get death with dignity passed in every state.

"I want to work on the cause," Ziegler told PEOPLE last month. "I have so much admiration for people who are terminally ill and just fight and fight. They are so dignified and brave. This is a different choice, but it is also brave and dignified."

She also shared with them her hopes and dreams for their future. Upstairs in the home she shares with her family are neatly wrapped Christmas and birthday gifts for her loved ones for the next year.

"She made it clear she wants me to live a good life," Ziegler says.

In her second video, Maynard, who is an only child, said she hoped her mother does not "break down" or "suffer from any kind of depression."

And for Diaz, "I hope he moves on and becomes a father," she said. "There's no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife."

Terminally Ill Woman Brittany Maynard Has Ended Her Own Life| Cancer, Health, Medicine, Real People Stories, Brittany Maynard
Brittany Maynard (third from left) and her family at the Grand Canyon Oct. 21
Courtesy Brittany Maynard

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Branson vows to find out cause of spacecraft crash




Excerpt from
sfgate.com 

MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) — Billionaire Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson vowed Saturday to find out what caused the crash of his prototype space tourism craft that killed one of two test pilots, adding that while he remains committed to civilian space travel "we are not going to push on blindly."

In grim remarks at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the craft known as SpaceShipTwo was under development, Branson gave no details of Friday's accident and deferred to the National Transportation Safety Board, whose team had just arrived.


"We are determined to find out what went wrong," he said, asserting that safety has always been the top priority of the program that envisions taking wealthy tourists six at a time to the edge of space for a brief experience of weightlessness and a view of Earth below.

"Yesterday, we fell short," he said. "We'll now comprehensively assess the results of the crash and are determined to learn from this and move forward."

He also criticized early speculation about crash causes. "To be honest, I find it slightly irresponsible that people who know nothing about what they're saying can be saying things before the NTSB makes their comments."

The pilot killed in the test flight was identified Saturday as Michael Tyner Alsbury, 39, of nearby Tehachapi. The surviving pilot is Peter Siebold, 43, who parachuted to safety and was hospitalized.
Both worked for Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for Virgin Galactic. Scaled Composite said Alsbury was the co-pilot for the test flight. Siebold, who was piloting SpaceShipTwo, "is alert and talking with his family and doctors," the company said in a statement.

More than a dozen investigators in a range of specialties were forming teams to examine the crash site, collect data and interview witnesses, NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart told a press conference at Mojave Air and Space Port.

"This will be the first time we have been in the lead of a space launch (accident) that involved persons onboard," said Hart, noting that the NTSB did participate in investigations of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters.

Virgin Galactic — owned by Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi — plans to fly passengers to altitudes more than 62 miles above Earth. The company sells seats on each prospective journey for $250,000.

The company says that "future astronauts," as it calls customers, include Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand. The company reports receiving $90 million from about 700 prospective passengers.

On Saturday, Branson said none of that money has been spent and that anyone who wanted a refund could get it. However, he said, no one has asked, and instead someone signed up on the day of the accident in a show of support.


Friday's flight marked the 55th for SpaceShipTwo, which was intended to be the first of a fleet of craft. This was only the fourth flight to include a brief rocket firing. The rocket fires after the spacecraft is released from the underside of a larger carrying plane. During other flights, the craft either was not released from its mother ship or functioned as a glider after release.

The NTSB investigators were expected to head to an area about 20 miles from the Mojave airfield where debris from SpaceShipTwo fell over a wide area of uninhabited desert Friday morning. The spacecraft broke up after being released from a carrier aircraft at high altitude, according to Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the accident.

Friday's accident was the second this week involving private space flight. On Tuesday, an unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff in Virginia.

SpaceShipTwo is based on aerospace design maverick Burt Rutan's award-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to reach space in 2004. Three people died in a blast at the Mojave Air and Space Port in 2007 while testing a rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo.

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Gas falling under $3 per gallon nationwide







NEW YORK (AP) — The sight is so surprising that Americans are sharing photos of it, along with all those cute Halloween costumes, sweeping vistas and special meals: The gas station sign, with a price under $3 a gallon.
"It's stunning what's happening here," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. "I'm a little bit shocked."
The national average price of gasoline has fallen 33 cents in October, landing Friday at $3.00, according to AAA. Kloza said the average will fall under $3 by early Saturday morning for the first time in four years.
When the national average crossed above $3 a gallon in December of 2010, drivers weren't sure they'd ever see $2.99 again. Global demand for oil and gasoline was rising as people in developing countries bought cars by the tens of millions and turmoil was brewing in the oil-rich Middle East.
Now demand isn't rising as fast as expected, drillers have learned to tap vast new sources of oil, particularly in the U.S., and crude continues to flow out of the Middle East.
Seasonal swings and other factors will likely send gas back over $3 sooner than drivers would like, but the U.S. is on track for the lowest annual average since 2010 — and the 2015 average is expected to be lower even still.
Trisha Pena of Hermitage, Tenn., recently paid $2.57 a gallon to fill up her Honda CRV. Like many around the country these days, she was so surprised and delighted by the price she took a photo and posted it on social media for her friends to see. "I can't remember the last time it cost under $30 to put 10 or 11 gallons in my tank," she said in an interview. "A month ago it was in the $3.50 range, and that's where it had been for a very long time."
Here are a few things to know about cheap gas:
— Crude prices came off the boil. Oil fell from $107 a barrel in June to near $81 because there's a lot of supply and weak demand. U.S. output has increased 70 percent since 2008, and supplies from Iraq and Canada have also increased. At the same time, demand is weaker than expected because of a sluggish global economy.
— In the past, a stronger economy in the U.S., the world's biggest consumer of oil and gasoline, typically meant rising fuel demand. No longer. Americans are driving more efficient vehicles and our driving habits are changing. Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute calculates that the number of miles traveled per household and gallons of fuel consumed per household peaked in 2004.
— The drop from last year's average of $3.51 per gallon will save the typical U.S. household about $50 a month.
— The drop will save the U.S. economy $187 million a day, and also boost the profits of shippers, airlines, and any company that sends employees out on sales calls or for deliveries.
— It will take an extra 1.5 years to make purchasing a higher-priced, better-mileage Toyota Prius instead of a Toyota Corolla pay off.
— New York's average of $3.37 is the highest in the continental U.S. South Carolina and Tennessee are the lowest, with an average of $2.75.
— Politicians are either going to take the credit for lower gasoline prices or blame the other party for not helping them fall further. Don't listen. There are small things politicians can do over long time horizons, like implement fuel economy standards or ease drilling regulations, but the decline in prices is mainly due to market forces.

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