Tag Archives: U.S.

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days

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The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/

Human Rights Watch Urges Fully Autonomous Weapons Ban

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Nonprofit group Human Rights Watch released a report this week calling for a worldwide ban on all fully autonomous weapons.

The 50-page report, called “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” acknowledges that while fully autonomous weapons are not quite yet a reality, current trends — like the increased use of drones and unmanned vehicles by governments — are heading down that route.


The group warns that further advancement of autonomous weaponry would eventually lead to a lack of human controls — the kind of controls that “provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians.”

Watch the video up top to learn more. What are your thoughts on fully autonomous weaponry?

Drone

Image courtesy of Flickr, DrLianPinKoh and ConservationDrones.org

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/ban-autonomous-weapons/

New Weather Forecast Model Can Pinpoint Severe Storms Up to 15 Hours in Advance

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Image: Mashable composite. NASA

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) gained a new, sharper weapon in their arsenal of computer models on Tuesday, which could result in better weather forecasts. The agency put its newly updated High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR, which is pronounced like the word “her,” except with many more Rs), into operational use after several years of experimental simulations.

The model will help meteorologists pinpoint the development of damaging weather conditions that are too small-scale and short-term to be detected by other models, such as derecho events like the one that shut off the lights to hundreds of thousands of people from Ohio to Virginia on June 29, 2012.

According to the NWS, the newly supercharged HRRR model, which had been in use before Tuesday but at a far coarser resolution, will allow forecasters to make better warnings of flash flooding, heavy snowfall, and the likelihood of severe thunderstorms. It could also make aviation forecasts more reliable, helping pilots steer clear of turbulence.

HRRR Radar

The key to the HRRR’s upgrade is a major narrowing of its spatial resolution, which is akin from going from taking a wide shot photograph to using a zoom lens. The spatial resolution of the improved model is four times finer than what was used before, allowing it to capture smaller-scale details, such as individual thunderstorms, that it might otherwise have missed. According to a press release, the improvements made each pixel in the model go from the size of an entire city, at eight miles wide, to the size of a neighborhood within that city, at two miles wide.

The new HRRR model was five years in the making from a team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. The model is now run on supercomputers in Virginia and Florida on an hourly basis, and it takes advantage of real-time radar data to produce more accurate projections of how weather systems will move and develop. Its forecasts extend out to 15 hours in advance, compared to other weather models that project up to 10 to 14 days.

“This is the first in a new generation of weather prediction models designed to better represent the atmosphere and mechanics that drive high-impact weather events,” said William Lapenta, Ph.D., director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, part of the National Weather Service, in a press release. “The HRRR is a tool delivering forecasters a more accurate depiction of hazardous weather to help improve our public warnings and save lives.”

How the model works

The new model takes about 1,200 computer cores to run, and keeps them busy for each hour, NOAA research meteorologist Stan Benjamin told Mashable. He said the new model takes up about 12 to 15% of the operational computing capacity that NOAA has at the environmental prediction center, which is located in College Park, Maryland.

According to NOAA, the computer model starts out with a three-dimensional picture of the atmosphere one hour before the forecast, and ingests observations from a variety of sources, from weather stations on the ground to data from commercial aircraft flying in the skies above. It brings in radar imagery every 15 minutes to help the model understand where precipitation is moving and how it’s developing. The model’s hourly output provides 15-minute snapshots of weather conditions, which could help the NWS in its goal to transition from warning of a storm’s formation to issuing warnings based on storm forecasts.

“It actually knows about current radar reflective information,” said Benjamin, who led the research team that developed the model, “and it’s able to represent that and update it every hour.”

The HRRR update comes at the same time that the NWS is boosting its computing power for its other weather models, which in recent years have fallen behind Europe and Japan in their computing power and accuracy.

“Implementation of the HRRR is just one of many model improvements made possible with NOAA’s boost in its supercomputing power for weather prediction,” said Louis Uccellini, NWS director, in a press release.

The NWS has been beset by a series of technical glitches in the past several months, with critical portions of its website and warning dissemination system going down for hours at a time.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/09/30/new-weather-forecast-model-can-pinpoint-thunderstorms-up-to-15-hours-in-advance/

Latest Mars Photo Shows Curiosity’s Tracks From Space

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NASA’s newest Mars rover Curiosity is taking its first tentative drives across the Martian surface and leaving tracks that have been spotted all the way from space in a spectacular photo snapped by an orbiting spacecraft.

The newview of Curiosity’s tracks from space was captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and released today. It shows the rover as a bright, boxy vehicle at the end of two tracks that create a single zig-zag pattern in the Martian surface.

Another photo from the MRO spacecraft spotted the car-size Curiosity rover’s parachute and protective backshell, which were jettisoned by the rover during its Aug. 5 landing. A previous photo by MRO taken on Curiosity’s actual landing day captured an image of theMars rover hanging from its parachute.

Scientists used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on the MRO spacecraft to take the new photos, which have created a buzz among the Curiosity rover’s science team.

“The HiRISE camera on MRO continues to take amazing photographs of Mars, and of us on Mars,” said Mike Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a briefing today.

The photo of Curiosity also includes the rover’s landing spot and shows the scorch marks left behind by the rockets on the sky crane that lowered the rover to the Martian surface.

“It’s a great image of where we stand relative to the touchdown point now,” Watkins said.

This isn’t the first time the MRO spacecraft has captured views of rovers on Mars. The orbiter repeatedly observed NASA’s smaller Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity as they explored the Martian surface following their own landings in January 2004. The Spirit rover’s mission was declared over last year, but Opportunity continues to rover across the Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.

The Mars rover Curiosity took its first drive on Mars on Aug. 22 and completed its longest drive, a 100-foot trek, on Sept. 4. So far, the rover has driven a total of 358 feet on Mars, but is actually just 69 feet away from its landing site due to the turns the rover has performed along the way.

Mission scientists have also tested the rover’s mast-mounted cameras and laser, which is used to study the composition of Martian rocks, and are preparing a weeklong set of tests to calibrate Curiosity’s instrument-tipped robotic arm.

NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is designed to spend the next two years exploring the vast Gale Crater on Mars to determine if the area could have once supported microbial life. Mission scientists also plan to send the rover up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising up from the center of the crater.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/06/nasa-photo-curiosity-tracks/

This Song Was Recorded in Space

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Using Soundcloud and YouTube, astronaut Chris Hadfield beamed a song from space to Earth. Hadfield recorded “Jewel in the Night” aboard the International Space Station this week, saying, “You can hear the slight buzz of the station’s fans in the background.”

He adds the song is “some of the first original music written for and performed on” the ISS.

Hadfield, with the Canadian Space Agency, is the commander of the 147-day ISS mission.

Hadfield shared the Soundcloud player and a YouTube video on Twitter, where he has been keeping people updated on his space adventures. Here’s a sampling of his holiday tweets:

Days before launching into space to arrive on the ISS, Hadfield participated in “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. In his introduction, he explained that he attempts to routinely check his social media for questions and comments from followers.

Heat-Sensitive Telescope Could Find Aliens

Exoplanet

We might be able find aliens using the heat their civilizations give off, astronomers say, but it will take a megatelescope to do the job. The development of such a telescope is in the works.

The telescope — called Colossus — would be a massive 250-foot (77-meter) telescope, which is more than double the aperture of any telescope yet constructed.

To keep costs down, the proposed $1 billion telescope would use thin mirror technology and few large aperture mirror segments to build Colossus. The sensitivity of the scope could be enough to spot cities or other signs of aliens for planets as far as 60 to 70 light-years from Earth, its backers said.

“If we had an investor come and say, ‘Look, here are the resources you need,’ we could have the telescope built within five years,” said Jeff Kuhn, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, who is on the proposal team.

Building on Dyson Spheres

In searches for extraterrestrial intelligence, astronomers generally focus on seeking out beamed signals from other civilizations. In four decades of searching, nothing definitive has been found. There were, however, a few interesting moments, such as the so-called “Wow!” signal heard in 1977 that was never repeated.

There are limitations with that method, however. Perhaps the aliens might not send out signals themselves. Maybe they broadcast in channels we wouldn’t think of using. Moreover, humans should be cautious about sending out signals and alerting more advanced civilizations to their presence, as Stephen Hawking has said.

This is where Colossus can shine, Kuhn said. The telescope is a passive receiver that allows astronomers to seek out extraterrestrials without alerting them to the search.

Kuhn’s team builds on a concept first proposed by physicist Freeman Dyson in the 1960s. Humans can capture only a fraction of the energy sent out by the sun, but a more advanced civilization would want to grab as much as possible.

Dyson suggested an extraterrestrial civilization would surround their star with a structure — now known as a “Dyson sphere” — that would capture the energy needed and then bleed the rest off into space.

From Earth, a star that is faint optically but very strong in the infrared could be an indication of such a sphere, Dyson mused. Kuhn’s team, rather than focusing on stars, is instead looking at the surfaces of alien planets.

“Similarly, an exoplanet that was optically dark, but thermally bright, would be evidence of extraterrestrial civilization,” Kuhn said.

Seeking the Heat

To date, there are few images obtained of exoplanets; they are only faintly visible, and their parent stars tend to overwhelm their radiated light. That’s why such a large mirror is needed to peer at them, Kuhn explained.

“The biggest telescopes that we’re likely to see in the next 100 years or so will not be able to directly image cities or organized structures on the planet,” he said. Still, he added, local heat sources could be visible.

“We do that by using the fact that the planet has to rotate, and that civilization is clustered either by the formation of continents or the use of land, which is agrarian versus organized into population centers. The assumption we make is that civilizations will cluster their heat use. It won’t be uniform; they distribute it.”

Volcanoes and other natural features also produce heat, Kuhn said, but astronomers would probe heat sources in at least two different wavelengths to obtain the temperature. Natural features are likely to be far above the background heat of the planet. Those heat sources that are slightly above the planet’s natural radiation are more likely to be signs of civilization, he said.

The method does have limitations, he added.

“It is possible to be confused on a planet which is perpetually cloud-covered, and we wouldn’t be able to detect a signal on a planet where somehow the alien society managed to uniformly distribute itself around the planet so it isn’t clustered,” Kuhn said.

There’s no firm location yet for the telescope, but Kuhn suggested it could be built in the San Pedro Martir mountainous area of Baja California in Mexico, close to the location of one partner in the project: the National University of Mexico in Ensenada.

6 Patents Pending

Kuhn’s team is seeking funding from private funders, and will perhaps obtain money from patents as well. The scientists submitted six patent applications relating to optical technologies associated with the telescope design.

“We are not in competition with the astronomy projects,” he said when asked about obtaining federal science or NASA funding for the effort. “This is entirely private funding that we have been supported by.”

The team, however, is open to partnerships with other institutions. One possibility could be the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute itself, but the organization prefers to focus on radio telescopes right now, Kuhn said.

The notion was first thought up by Caisey Harlingten, an entrepreneur and amateur astronomer who sought two years ago to find a team capable of building the telescope, Kuhn said. The group includes a member with experience building Hawaii’s Keck and Suburu telescopes — David Halliday, founder of Canadian-based Dynamic Structures Inc.

Other partners in the project include Germany’s Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, the National University of Mexico in Ensenada, Tohoku University in Japan, the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, the University of Lyon in France and Harlingten’s company, Innovative Optics.

An overview concept of the project was recently published in Astronomy magazine. The group is now creating a more detailed design and seeking funding. No start date has been set yet for construction.

Image courtesy of Flickr, NASA Blueshift

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/07/alien-heat-telescope/

Space Shuttle Endeavour’s LA Landing Delayed to Friday

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Space shuttle Endeavour’s highly anticipated arrival in Los Angeles has been deferred by a day.

The retired spacecraft, which will be ferried on top of NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 jet, was originally targeted to land at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Sept. 20. Destined for display at the California Science Center (CSC), Endeavour, riding piggyback atop the SCA, is now scheduled to touch down on Friday at about 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT; 1800 GMT).

“The decision to reschedule the flight was made Monday in coordination with the science center to ensure a safe flight for Endeavour and the SCA,” NASA announced in a statement.

The one-day delay stems from NASA having to postpone Endeavour’s departure from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a result of a low pressure weather front and its associated thunderstorms posing a threat to the ferry flight during its first leg to Houston. The carrier aircraft had been set to takeoff from Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility on Monday morning, but was delayed twice, first to Tuesday and then Wednesday.

“Weather predictions are favorable on Wednesday for the flight path between Houston and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center,” the space agency said.

Endeavour’s last liftoff from Florida and the final ferry flight of the shuttle era is now targeted to begin on Wednesday (Sept. 19) at sunrise, at about 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT).

[Gallery: Shuttle Endeavour Rolled Out Atop Aircraft]

Delaying the shuttle’s Los Angeles arrival to Friday offered NASA the leeway to resume its plans to conduct several low flyovers and stopovers at many of its facilities spread across the southern and western regions of the country.

After taking off from Kennedy on the same runway where Endeavour made its 25th and final return from space in June 2011, the shuttle and SCA duo will perform a flyover of Florida’s Space Coast, including Kennedy, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base.

The aircraft and spacecraft will then fly west and conduct low level passes of the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where NASA tested the orbiters’ engines and built space shuttle external tanks, respectively. As the ferry flight arrives over the Gulf Coast area, the SCA will fly low passes over the Houston area before touching down at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The Texas Gulf Coast region flyover is scheduled to occur between about 9 – 10:30 a.m. CDT (10 – 11:30 a.m. EDT, or 1400-1530 GMT). Landing at Ellington is scheduled for approximately 10:45 a.m. (11:45 a.m. EDT; 1545 GMT). Endeavour and the SCA will spend the night in Houston.

At sunrise on Sept. 20, the aircraft and shuttle will depart Ellington, make a refueling stop at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas, and conduct low-level flyovers of White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M., and the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., before landing around mid-day at Dryden.

On the morning of Sept. 21, the SCA and Endeavour will take off one last time from Dryden and perform a low-level flyover of Northern California, passing near NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field and various landmarks in multiple cities, including Sacramento and San Francisco. The aircraft will also fly over many Los Angeles landmarks before arriving at LAX.

Once on the ground and following a ceremony welcoming Endeavour to Los Angeles, the shuttle will be removed from the SCA and spend a few weeks at a United Airlines hangar undergoing preparations for transport and display. Endeavour will then travel through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles on a two-day, 12-mile (19-kilometer) road trip from the airport to the science center, arriving on the evening of Oct. 13.

Beginning Oct. 30, the shuttle will debut on display in the science center’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, beginning its new educational mission to commemorate past achievements in space and inspire the next generations of explorers.

Go to shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA’s retired space shuttles.

Image courtesy offotopedia.com

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/19/shuttle-endeavour-los-angeles/

Celestial Scorpion Reigns in Night Sky

Scorpius

There’s a giant scorpion hovering overhead, but have no fear. This creepy crawler is actually the constellation Scorpius — all sparkle and no sting.

In his book The Stars in Our Heaven — Myths and Fables (Pantheon Books, 1948), author Peter Lum writes:

The scorpion is essentially a creature of darkness, a furtive little animal that lurks in the shadows, hides under stones or in any dark crevice and cannot bear to face the light … only at night does it come out in search of its prey. Although seldom fatal (its sting) is extremely painful; hence the scorpion is usually disliked, feared and avoided by anyone who has ever come in contact with him.

But so far as stargazing is concerned, it’s a whole different story, as Lum is quick to point out:

The scorpion may be an insignificant and ugly little beast, but the stars that bear its name form one of the most beautiful and conspicuous constellations in the sky. What is more remarkable is that it looks like a scorpion. At least it looks like some creature with a long and curving tail, or like a … great fish hook.

And if you face due south at around 11 p.m. local time this week, you may be able to get the best view of this magnificent star pattern — the constellation Scorpius — which ironically represents a lowly, creepy-crawly thing that has few friends.

Scorpius is a constellation that can be best appreciated by southerners. Those who live in the far-northern United States, southern Canada or the British Isles will have part or even all of its tail hidden below the southern horizon. As one progresses farther south, the Scorpion slowly climbs the southern sky.  For those who live in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, northern Argentina, Uruguay, most of Brazil, northern Chile and southern Peru Scorpius lies directly overhead. The Milky Way Galaxy passes through the lower extremities of the Scorpion.  Here, clouds of stars and dark interstellar dust combine in a bewildering array as seen in binoculars and amateur telescopes.

The Scorpion’s brightest star is the first-magnitude Antares, displaying a reddish hue. To the ancients, this distinctive red color suggested the planet Mars, and the name Antares means literally “The Rival of Ares” — Ares being the Greek name for the God of War. I’ve always felt that even on those occasions when Mars outshines Antares, it still rivals Mars in terms of its fiery color. The so-called Red Planet actually glows with an orange-yellow luster, whereas the star Antares always glows with ruddy hue. In the time of Confucius, Chinese astronomers called this star Ta Who, “The Great Fire.”

Antares is a cool, red supergiant star, about 604 light-years away. It is 9,000 times more luminous and about 700 times the diameter of our sun. If our solar system were centered on Antares, the orbit of the Earth would easily fit inside the star. Put another way, if we could reduce our sun down to the size of a baseball, Antares would be a globe measuring more than 134 feet (nearly 41 meters) in diameter.

Yet, despite these impressive statistics, it should be noted that the overall density of Antares is less than one-millionth that of the sun. Antares is also relatively cool as stars go, only about 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,593 degrees Celsius) compared to 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit (6,093 degrees Celsius) for the sun. The star’s low temperature accounts for its ruddy color.

Antares also has a small, very hot companion, bluish-white in color, but yet has been described appearing as “… a little spark of glittering emerald” because of its proximity and contrast to ruddy Antares. The two stars orbit each other over a span of nearly 900 years, separated by a distance of about 500 times Earth’s distance from the sun.

Of all the constellations, only Orion can boast more bright stars than Scorpius. And indeed, there were mythological reasons for the scorpion’s placement in our summer sky. The most famous legend has Scorpius representing the creature that stung Orion, the Mighty Hunter to death. To honor Orion, the Scorpion was placed opposite him in the sky, so that these celestial antagonists will never meet again. And supposedly that’s why when Orion is disappearing below the western horizon during spring evenings, the Scorpion is beginning to poke his head up in the southeast.

Image courtesy of Luis Argerich/Flickr

Editor’s note: If you snap an amazing photo of the night sky and you’d like to share it for a possible story or image gallery on SPACE.com, please send images and comments, including equipment used, to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer’s Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/28/weekend-stargazing-celestial-scorpion-reigns-in-night-sky/

Super-Realistic Simulator Lands NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars

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As NASA’s Curiosity rover gets closer to its early Monday morning landing on Mars, the agency has released a spectacular simulator that will take you through every detail of the complicated landing procedure.

If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft, officially called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), will land on the Red Planet at 1:30 A.M. Eastern Time on August 5.

The remarkable web-based interactive animation lets you see precisely where in space the 1-ton, $2.5 billion Mars rover is located at this moment, or using Preview Mode, you can jump forward and backward in time, speeding up events so you can see each aspect of the flight and landing. That includes the last step, which lowers the unusually heavy rover using an incredible “sky crane.”

During the “seven minutes of terror,” NASA‘s way of explaining the Rube-Goldbergian process of landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, it won’t be possible to watch the Mars landing live because of the 14-minute communications delay between Mars and Earth. But an interactive animation of the landing will be viewable in real time in this simulator as it happens early Monday morning.

In the meantime, we’ve been having lots of fun playing with this simulator, going forward and backward in time, dragging the mouse to change camera angles, and even looking back at a tiny Earth, way off in the distance.

Try it yourself — and pay close attention to those “seven minutes of terror,” the most complicated landing sequence ever attempted. While you’re at it, keep your fingers crossed at 1:30 A.M. Eastern time on Monday morning, because key NASA officials are saying there’s a lot riding on this landing. Doug McQuiston, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program calls it “the most significant event in the history of planetary exploration.”

Lead scientist for the mission, John Grotzinger, told Space.com, “I think if we are fatal on landing, that will have a very negative influence.” He added, “It’s going to force people to look back and ask if it’s possible to achieve these very complex, more demanding missions from a technological perspective. How can you talk about sample-return if you can’t do MSL [Mars Science Laboratory] first?”

Good luck, NASA. Do you think the spacecraft will land on Mars successfully?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/04/simulator-mars-curiosity-rover/

Mars Landing Broadcast on Ustream Outperforms Cable TV, Company Says

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New stats from Ustream suggest that more people are forgoing television for online sources when it comes to getting news, the company says.

More than 3.2 million people tuned in to the live streaming platform to see Sunday night’s landing of the Mars Curiosity rover, according to spokesman Tony Riggins.

“More people tuned in to watch the NASA Mars landing coverage on Ustream than many of the top cable news networks during Sunday primetime,” he told Mashable in an email.

Riggins said that at its peak, Ustream had 500,000 concurrent viewers across all streams watching live. The platform had broadcasts spanning NASA HDTV, NASA JPL and NASA JPL 2

While there’s no specific statistics for network coverage of the landing, Nielsen television ratings for Sunday’s primetime slot shows that among viewers over age 2, CNN had an audience of 426,000. Other major networks such as MSNBC had 365,000 viewers, while CNBC received 109,000. Only Fox had higher numbers, clocking in at 803,000.

“This speaks to how much more sophisticated social media tools are getting on the web, even from just a year ago, and how consumers are adapting technologies to get news now from sources like Ustream,” Riggins said.

Ustream also lets viewers interact in real-time over its “social stream,” via mobile phones, tablets, streaming players and smart TV. Aggregating multiple social networks, this feature integrates audiences across Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. More than 102,000 social stream messages were sent on Sunday, according to Ustream.

The New York Times reported on television’s downward trend in April.

“Across the television landscape, network and cable, public television and Spanish, viewing for all sorts of prime-time programming is down this spring — chiefly among the most important audience for the business, younger adults,” said reporter Bill Carter.

In contrast, Ustream’s viewership has soared in recent years. From a reported 10 million unique viewers in June 2008, the platform said it now has 51 million viewers “every month” (though it’s unclear whether this number refers to unique viewers).

Do you watch news online or on television more often? Tell us in the comments below.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/07/mars-curiosity-ustream/