Tag: october (page 6 of 39)

Secretive X-37B Military Space Plane Preps for Another Mystery Mission

X-37B Space Plane in Orbit: Artist’s Concept
Artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The mysterious spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its fourth mission on May 20, 2015.
Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Excerpt from space.com

The United States Air Force's X-37B space plane will launch on its fourth mystery mission next month.
The unmanned X-37B space plane, which looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter, is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 20.

"We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission," Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. "With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads." 

The X-37B's payloads and specific activities are classified, so it's unclear exactly what the spacecraft does while zipping around the Earth. But Air Force officials have revealed a few clues about the upcoming mission.

"The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are investigating an experimental propulsion system on the X-37B on Mission 4," Capt. Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman, told Space.com via email.  

"AFRCO will also host a number of advance materials onboard the X-37B for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study the durability of various materials in the space environment," Hoyler added.

The Air Force owns two X-37B space planes, both of which were built by Boeing's Phantom Works division. The solar-powered spacecraft are about 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 m) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. The X-37B launches vertically atop a rocket and lands horizontally on a runway, like the space shuttle did.

One of the two X-37B vehicles flew the program's first and third missions, which were known as OTV-1 and OTV-3, respectively. ("OTV" is short for "Orbital Test Vehicle.") The other spacecraft flew OTV-2. Air Force officials have not revealed which space plane will be going to orbit on the upcoming mission.

OTV-1 launched in April 2010 and landed in December of that year, staying in orbit for 225 days. OTV-2 blasted off in March 2011 and circled Earth for 469 days, coming down in June 2012. OTV-3 launched in December 2012 and stayed aloft for a record-breaking 675 days, finally landing in October 2014.

Recovery Crew Processes X-37B Space Plane
A recovery team processes the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane after the robotic spacecraft's successful landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Oct. 17, 2014. The touchdown marked the end of the X-37B’s third space mission.
Credit: Boeing

If Air Force officials know how long OTV-4 is going to last, they're not saying.

"The X-37B is designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days," Hoyler said. "Longer missions have been demonstrated. As with previous missions, the actual duration will depend on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility."

The secrecy surrounding the X-37B and its payloads has fueled speculation in some quarters that the vehicle could be a space weapon of some sort. But Air Force officials have repeatedly refuted that notion.

"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet. 

"Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing."

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Explosive Culprit? Russian Fireball’s Origins Found

A photograph of the Annama meteorite fireball over Russia's Kola Peninsula.

Excerpt from space.com

A crackling fireball that exploded over Russia last year appears to share an orbit with a huge asteroid discovered in October 2014, a new study reports.

The Kola fireball was spotted on April 19, 2014, as it lit up the night sky above the Kola Peninsula near the Finnish-Russian border. Its orbit is "disturbingly similar" to the asteroid 2014 UR116, slated to pass by the moon in 2017, the study authors said.
Camera observations by the Finnish Fireball Network, which monitors the sky for meteors and fireballs, and video from eyewitnesses helped scientists recreate the meteoroid's trajectory and hunt down meteorite fragments on the ground. 

Josep Maria Trigo-Rodríguez, a researcher at the Institute of Space Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, led the international team of scientists who analyzed the meteorite's orbit. They calculated the fireball's size and path through Earth's atmosphere by examining its flight and the meteorite's final impact site. A computer model based on these figures was used to estimate the space rock's orbital path. 

The 1,100-pound (500 kilogram) meteorite is an ordinary H5 chondrite, a type of stony meteorite responsible for 31 percent of Earth's impacts. The fragments are called the "Annama meteorite" because the meteorite fell near the Annama River in Russia.

Annama meteorite

The precise detective works suggests the fireball escaped from the innermost region of the asteroid belt, the study researchers reported. The rock has an elliptical orbit that is typical of the Apollo family of near-Earth orbiting asteroids, and it likely came from the same broad source region as the Lost City, Peekskill and Buzzard Coulee meteorites, the researchers said.

The researchers compared the Annama meteorite's orbit with known near-Earth asteroids (there are more than 1,500). Of 12 potential matches, by far the closest match was with the asteroid 2014 UR116, they said.

The findings were published April 7 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The new report does not suggest that asteroid 2014 UR116 flung the Annama meteorite directly at Earth. However, the two bodies could be related. Scientists think that streams of asteroid fragments — such as the remnants of interstellar collisions — can sail on nearly identical orbits. Tidal forces may stretch out these rocky debris patches over time. Asteroids may also fragment from the stress of passing near the planets, the researchers noted.

"The tidal effect on an asteroid, which rapidly rotates under the gravitational field of a planet, can fragment these objects or release large rocks from its surface, which could then become dangerous projectiles at a local scale, such as the one that fell in Chelyabinsk, Russia," Trigo-Rodríguez said in a statement.

Asteroid 2014 UR116, discovered by Russian scientists on Oct. 27, 2014, measures 1,312 feet (400 meters) across, but does not pose an impact danger to Earth, according to NASA.

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Mystery Methane Hotspot Over Four Corners — What Is It?

 Excerpt from eaglecurrent.com NASA is joining in an effort to have an understanding of the presence of a methane hotspot over the 4 corners area of the United States. How severe is the atmospheric feature?A methane hotspot hovering over t...

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A Complete Guide to the March 20th Total Solar Eclipse

Totality! The 2012 total solar eclipse as seen from Australia. Credit and copyright: www.hughca.com.

Excerpt from universetoday.com

The first of two eclipse seasons for the year is upon us this month, and kicks off with the only total solar eclipse for 2015 on Friday, March 20th.

And what a bizarre eclipse it is. Not only does this eclipse begin just 15 hours prior to the March equinox marking the beginning of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere, but the shadow of totality also beats path through the high Arctic and ends over the North Pole.

An animation of the March 20th eclipse. Credit: NASA/GSFC/AT Sinclair.

Already, umbraphiles — those who chase eclipses — are converging on the two small tracts of terra firma where the umbra of the Moon makes landfall: the Faroe and Svalbard islands. All of Europe, the northern swath of the African continent, north-central Asia and the Middle East will see a partial solar eclipse, and the eclipse will be deeper percentage-wise the farther north you are .
2015 features four eclipses in all: two total lunars and two solars, with one total solar and one partial solar eclipse. Four is the minimum number of eclipses that can occur in a calendar year, and although North America misses out on the solar eclipse action this time ’round, most of the continent gets a front row seat to the two final total lunar eclipses of the ongoing tetrad on April 4th and September 28th.

How rare is a total solar eclipse on the vernal equinox? Well, the last total solar eclipse on the March equinox occurred back in 1662 on March 20th. There was also a hybrid eclipse — an eclipse which was annular along a portion of the track, and total along another — on March 20th, 1681. But you won’t have to wait that long for the next, as another eclipse falls on the northward equinox on March 20th, 2034.

The path of the March 20th eclipse across Europe, including start times for the partial phases, and the path of totality, click to enlarge. For more maps showing the percentage of occlusion, elevation, and more, click here. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmercianEclipse.com.

Note that in the 21st century, the March equinox falls on March 20th, and will start occasionally falling on March 19th in 2044. We’re also in that wacky time of year where North America has shifted back to ye ‘ole Daylight Saving (or Summer) Time, while Europe makes the change after the eclipse on March 29th. It really can wreak havoc with those cross-time zone plans, we know…
The March 20th eclipse also occurs only a day after lunar perigee, which falls on March 19th at 19:39 UT. This is also one of the closer lunar perigees for 2015 at 357,583 kilometres distant, though the maximum duration of totality for this eclipse is only 2 minutes and 47 seconds just northeast of the Faroe Islands.

Views from selected locales in Europe and Africa. Credit: Stellarium.

This eclipse is number 61 of 71 in solar saros series 120, which runs from 933 to 2754 AD. It’s also the second to last total in the series, with the final total solar eclipse for the saros cycle occurring one saros later on March 30th, 2033.

What would it look like to sit at the North Pole and watch a total solar eclipse on the first day of Spring? It would be a remarkable sight, as the disk of the Sun skims just above the horizon for the first time since the September 2014 equinox. Does this eclipse occur at sunrise or sunset as seen from the pole? It would be a rare spectacle indeed!

An equinoctal eclipse as simulated from the North Pole. Credit: Stellarium.

Practicing eclipse safety in Africa. Credit: Michael Zeiler/GreatAmericanEclipse.com

Safety is paramount when observing the Sun and a solar eclipse. Eye protection is mandatory during all partial phases across Europe, northern Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. A proper solar filter mask constructed of Baader safety film is easy to construct, and should fit snugly over the front aperture of a telescope. No. 14 welder’s goggles are also dense enough to look at the Sun, as are safety glasses specifically designed for eclipse viewing. Observing the Sun via projection or by using a pinhole projector is safe and easy to do.

A solar filtered scope ready to go in Tucson, Arizona. Credit: photo by author.

Weather is always the big variable in the days leading up to any eclipse. Unfortunately, March in the North Atlantic typically hosts stormy skies, and the low elevation of the eclipse in the sky may hamper observations as well. From the Faroe Islands, the Sun sits 18 degrees above the horizon during totality, while from the Svalbard Islands it’s even lower at 12 degrees in elevation. Much of Svalbard is also mountainous, making for sunless pockets of terrain that will be masked in shadow on eclipse day. Mean cloud amounts for both locales run in the 70% range, and the Eclipser website hosts a great in-depth climatology discussion for this and every eclipse.

The view of totality and the planets as seen from the Faroe Islands. Credit: Starry Night.

But don’t despair: you only need a clear view of the Sun to witness an eclipse!

Solar activity is also another big variable. Witnesses to the October 23rd, 2014 partial solar eclipse over the U.S. southwest will recall that we had a massive and very photogenic sunspot turned Earthward at the time. The Sun has been remarkably calm as of late, though active sunspot region 2297 is developing nicely. It will have rotated to the solar limb come eclipse day, and we should have a good grasp on what solar activity during the eclipse will look like come early next week.

And speaking of which: could an auroral display be in the cards for those brief few minutes of totality? It’s not out of the question, assuming the Sun cooperates.  Of course, the pearly white corona of the Sun still gives off a considerable amount of light during totality, equal to about half the brightness of a Full Moon. Still, witnessing two of nature’s grandest spectacles — a total solar eclipse and the aurora borealis — simultaneously would be an unforgettable sight, and to our knowledge, has never been documented!

We also put together some simulations of the eclipse as seen from Earth and space:

Note that an area of southern Spain may witness a transit of the International Space Station during the partial phase of the eclipse. This projection is tentative, as the orbit of the ISS evolves over time. Be sure to check CALSky for accurate predictions in the days leading up to the eclipse.

The ISS transits the Sun during the eclipse around 9:05 UT as seen from southern Spain. Credit: Starry Night.

Can’t make it to the eclipse? Live in the wrong hemisphere? There are already a few planned webcasts for the March 20th eclipse:

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Recent Disappearances & Strangeness in the Bermuda Triangle

Excerpt from paranormal.lovetoknow.com By Michelle Radcliff The Bermuda Triangle is an area of mostly open ocean located between Bermuda, Miami, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The unexplained disappearances of hundreds of ships and air...

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NASA To Study Mysterious ‘Magnetic Explosions’ Between Earth, Sun That Unleash Dangerous X-Rays By Brandon Mercer


Excerpt from sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER (CBS SF) — Earth and the Sun may be 93 million miles apart, but cosmic explosions between the two celestial spheres occur often and with devastating effects–unleashing waves of X-ray radiation and disrupting GPS communications, and it is with this danger in mind that next month, NASA will launch four “Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission” satellites, studying these “magnetic reconnections” and better predicting the consequences of these cosmic phenomena.

NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View uses supercomputers to create theoretical models of the magnetic fields on the sun, but the new mission will be able to actually observe what is happening, from a lofty vantage point `far above the Earth’s pole.

The mysterious magnetic reconnections actually transfer energy and physical particles from the Sun to Earth. The forces at work can accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, with devastating consequences.

In October 2003, a massive release of X-ray radiation hit Earth in what became known as the Halloween Storms. The energy triggered the first ever radiation warning to aircraft, alerting pilots that high altitude flights could expose passengers and crew to unhealthy levels of radiation.

Simultaneously, the GPS location system was impacted. Back then, this wasn’t as great a concern for the general public. It mainly affected the military, pilots, and sea captains, but were the same event to occur today, it may be much more noticeable with today’s smartphone world where everything we do is geo-tagged and coordinated using the GPS signals. In the future, it could evven impact autonomous self-driving vehicles and airborne drones that rely on GPS.

Karen C. Fox from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland writes, “Understanding vast systems in space requires understanding what’s happening on widely different scales. Giant events can turn out to have tiny drivers — take, for example, what rocked near-Earth space in October 2003.”
The Halloween geomagnetic storms had a beautiful side too. The Northern Lights were visible clear down to Southern California, and even Texas.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission will be the first ever mission dedicated to studying this universal process by orbiting Earth, and passing directly through nearby magnetic reconnection regions.

“Armed with this data, scientists will have their first chance to watch magnetic reconnection from the inside, right as it’s occurring. By focusing on the small-scale process, scientists open the door to understanding what happens on larger scales throughout the universe,” wrote Fox. 

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Jupiter Wins the Starring Role in February’s Planet Parade

Excerpt from nbc.com Planets are on parade in February's night sky. Giant Jupiter will dazzle all nig...

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