Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

House breaks without dealing with NASA bill

The House recessed today without dealing with the NASA authorization bill. Key quote:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said votes on all bills were postponed until Sept. 29, when the chamber hopes to take up a stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government running at present spending levels past Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends.


Birthplace of the Sun?

In a preprint [pdf] posted today on the astro-ph website, astronomers outline the discovery of a star more like a twin of the Sun than any previously discovered. The star is located in the galactic star cluster M67, 3000 light years away. The similarity is so close that the scientists even speculate that the Sun itself might have formed in this same cluster, 4.5 billion years ago. Key quote from paper:

The similarity of the age and overall composition of the Sun with the corresponding data of M67, and in particular the agreement of the detailed chemical composition of the Sun with that of M67-1194, could suggest that the Sun has formed in this very cluster. According to the numerical simulations by Hurley et al. (2005) the cluster has lost more than 80% of its stars by tidal interaction with the Galaxy, in particular when passing the Galactic plane, and the Sun might be one of those. We note that the orbit of the cluster encloses, within its apocentre and pericentre, the solar orbit. However, the cluster has an orbit extending to much higher Galactic latitudes, presently it is close to its vertical apex at z = 0.41 kpc (Davenport & Sandquist 2010), while the Sun does not reach beyond z = 80 pc (Innanen, Patrick & Duley 1978). Thus, in order for this hypothesis of an M67 origin of the Sun to be valid, it must have been dispersed from the cluster into an orbit precisely in the plane of the Galactic disk, which seems improbable.

The last sentences above refer to the different orbital inclinations of the galactic orbits of both the Sun and M67. M67’s orbital inclination is far steeper. While M67 is presently about 1350 light years (410 parsecs) above the galactic plane, the Sun’s orbit never takes it more than 261 light years above the plane.

One more point of interest: M67 is a well known object to amateur astronomers, located in the constellation Cancer.


Soyuz undocking at ISS delayed

The scheduled return of three astronauts on a Soyuz spacecraft has been delayed tonight because of a malfunction in the docking port.

Update: The return to Earth has definitely been canceled for tonight. The problem was caused when latches on the Soyuz, designed to secure it safely to ISS, refused to release on command. As of 12:43 am the plan was to recycle and try to land on Friday evening.


The double vortex at Venus’s south pole is gone

Using data accumulated over the past four years by Venus Express, scientists have shown that the giant double vortex storm at Venus’s south pole was only a temporary phenomenon. You can download the actual paper here [pdf]. Key quote from the paper:

The polar region of Venus shows a dynamics regime quite different than the rest of the planet, with a separation region delimited by the cold collar zone. Average wind speeds presents an almost solid body rotation, while instantaneous view highlights the complex dynamic structure with air flowing almost toward all directions. The so called dipole shape is not a stable feature and the morphology of the vortex is significantly variable on both short and long timescales.

The “cold collar” is an atmospheric ring of colder temperatures that encircles the planet’s poles.


The moons of Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn continues to send back a wealth of data, and some gob-smacking wonderful images. Below are two of the more recent examples. The first is not a computer-generated graphic: it shows the small moon Helene (21 miles across) during a fly-by on March 3, 2010, with Saturn’s atmosphere providing the background. The second captures Saturn’s two largest moons, with the smaller Rhea crossing in front of the larger Titan.

Saturn's moon Helene

Rhea eclipses Titan


First tests of beer in zero gravity

Who says space exploration is dead? Sometime in November researchers will conduct the first zero gravity tests of the world’s first beer to be certified for drinking in space. The tests will take place during suborbital flights of what is commonly known as the Vomit Comet. Key quote:

Sampling the beer during weightless parabolas, the flight researcher will record both qualitative data on beverage taste and drinkability and biometric data on body temperature, heart rate, and blood alcohol content.


Federal spending is out of control and NASA’s gonna get what it wants?

You think NASA’s going get money this year or next? Or ever? In one graph (see below), this article shows how completely out of control federal spending has become, beginning in 2007, with no end in sight. Key quote:

Until this skyrocketing spending growth is arrested and reversed, we suspect that government spending has become disconnected from the ability of any American household to support it.

out of control

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