30 December 2009

Russia May Send Spacecraft to Asteroid

- AP 
- December 30, 2009
Russia's space chief said Wednesday his agency will consider sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.
MOSCOW  Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth, the head of the country's space agency said Wednesday.
Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, telling Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.
When the 885-foot asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but have since lowered their estimate.
SLIDESHOW: How Could Scientists Prevent an Asteroid Impact?
Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth's surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.
In October, NASA lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 as earlier thought to a 1-in-250,000 chance after researchers recalculated the asteroid's path. It said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.
Without mentioning NASA findings, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. "I don't remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032," Perminov said.
"People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people," Perminov said.
Scientists have long theorized about asteroid deflection strategies. Some have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or using nuclear weapons to hit it.
Perminov wouldn't disclose any details of the project, saying they still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn't require any nuclear explosions.
Hollywood action films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," have featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent collisions.
"Calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges," Perminov said. "The threat of collision can be averted."
Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov's statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.
"Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about," he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

26 December 2009

Why might ET talk?

Below is an interesting discussion about reasons that might compel a civilization to broadcast its existence.

From: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/12/the-human-species-urge-for-et-communication-a-galaxy-insight.html

The Human Species' Urge for Contact - The Search for ET (VIDEO)

The search for extra-terrestrial life assumes two things: that there is some, and that it wants to talk, and while the first is obvious to anyone with even the remotest understanding of the size of the universe the second still poses a lot of questions. The fact is there's only one E.T. whose communications motives we ever understand, and all he wanted was to get off our crazy dirtball.  And we made him up.
Those interested in interstellar inquiry (which we really hope is all of you) should check out the METI discussion linked at the end of this post. The Benford brothers launch an interesting discussion on the costs and constraints of any communicating aliens, and while the idea of applying economic limitations to alien life is depressing it's well worth thinking about.  There's also a discussion of the motivations for messages, and the sort of signal we should expect from each.
Thinking broadly, high-power transmitters might be built for wide variety of goals other than communication driven by curiosity. Here are a few examples:
Kilroy Was Here. These can be signatures verging on graffiti. Names chiseled into walls have survived from ancient times. More recently, we sent compact disks on interplanetary probes, often bearing people’s names and short messages that can endure for millennia.
High Church. These are designed for durability, to convey the culture’s highest achievements. The essential message is this was the best we did; remember it.
The Funeral Pyre: A civilization near the end of its life announces its existence.
Ozymandias: Here the motivation is sheer pride; the Beacon announces the existence of a high civilization,even though it may be extinct, and the Beacon tended by robots.
Help! Quite possibly societies that plan over time scales ~1000 years will foresee physical problems and wish to discover if others have surmounted them. An example is a civilization whose star is warming (as ours is), which may wish to move their planet outward with gravitational tugs. Many others are possible.
Leakage Radiation: These are unintentional, much like objects left accidentally in ancient sites and uncovered long after. They do carry messages, even if inadvertent: technological fingerprints. These can be not merely radio and television broadcasts radiating isotropically, which are weak, but deep space radar and beaming of energy over solar system distances. This includes “industrial” spaceship launchers, beam-driven sails, “planetary defense” radars scanning for killer asteroids, and cosmic power beaming driving interstellar starships with beams of lasers, millimeter or microwaves.
Believe and Join Us: Religion may be a galactic commonplace; after all, it is here. Seeking converts is common, too, and electromagnetic preaching fits a frequent meme.
Interstellar communication is no easy feat (assuming you haven't found any kind of space-time shortcut). People like to joke about how an aliens first look at us will be I Love Lucy or American Idol (in which case we'll be very lucky to avoid extermination), but physically it'd be easier for the alien to warp here and buy the DVDs.  Television transmitters aren't exactly interstellar beacons.  The most powerful transmission tower in the world only emits 2.5 Megawatts - assuming zero losses (and while you're at it wish for a unicorn), by the time the signal reaches the closest star it's spread out over 130 billion square kilometers, only twenty picowatts per square meter.  Not even a trillionth of a lightbulb and, in case you haven't noticed, the only thing we can see that far away is stars.
We have to assume than any information we intercept is either intentionally beamed at us (or out at random) or based on technology we haven't imagined yet.  We should really hope for the latter or it's going to be a long cold existence of extremely slow shouting at each things.
Luke McKinney

20 December 2009

Asteroids and Nukes in Space

"When it comes to stopping a cataclysmic Earth vs. asteroid event, social science and international political leaders have more difficult questions yet unanswered than physicists do, according to report delivered at this week's American Geophysical Union meetingWired has a discussion of an analysis authored by former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who worries that the international community is nowhere near ready to begin the complex and inevitably controversial task of deflecting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Among the questions to be answered is whether to modify the Partial Test Ban Treaty to allow nuclear weapons in outer space. Another possibility to avoid the destruction of civilization would require the international community to choose an area on the globe where an asteroid might be 'aimed.' Who would decide which nations get placed in the asteroid's crosshairs?"

17 December 2009


Exerpts From: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/12/16/2152989.aspx
by Alan Boyle

Astronomers say they have detected a planet just six and a half times as massive as Earth - at a distance so close its atmosphere could be studied, and with a density so low it's almost certain to have abundant water.
The alien world known as GJ 1214b orbits a red dwarf star one-fifth the size of our own sun, 40 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus, the astronomers reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
"Astronomically speaking, this is on our block," David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, lead author of the study, told reporters this week. "This is a next-door neighbor. For perspective, our own TV signals have already passed beyond the distance of this star."
He said the planet was detected using an array of eight off-the-shelf, 16-inch telescopes equipped with commercially available cameras.
"Since we found the super-Earth using a small ground-based telescope, this means that anyone else with a similar telescope and a good CCD camera can detect it too," Charbonneau said in a news release. "Students around the world can now study this super-Earth."
Super-Earths - planets that are roughly two to 10 times Earth's mass - represent the hottest frontier in the years-long search for worlds beyond our solar system. Planet-hunters reported finding their first transiting super-Earth in February, and earlier this week, other researchers addedtwo more super-Earths to the list.
Those planets orbit stars like our own sun, but the brightness of GJ 1214b's parent star is hundreds of times dimmer. The planet is also much closer to the star than any of our own solar system's planets, orbiting at a distance of only 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers). That combination suggests that the planet's surface temperature would be about 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius), Charbonneau's research team reported.
Charbonneau speculated that GJ 1214b was a little too hot for life as we know it, "but it didn't miss it by very much."
The planet's discovery was hailed as a potential breakthrough by Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley who is a pioneer in the planet quest. In a commentary written for Nature, Marcy said Charbonneau and his colleagues "provide the most watertight evidence so far for a planet that is something like our own Earth, outside our solar system."
How it was found
GJ 1214b was detected thanks to an innovative telescope system, a cleverly focused observation campaign - and perhaps a little bit of luck. The eight-telescope array, dubbed the MEarth Project, was set up at the Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins in Arizona. The telescopes were programmed to gaze at 2,000 low-mass stars and check for slight, regular dips in light that could be caused by a dark planet's transit across the star's disk.
Relatively dim, relatively close stars were favored because the planet's dimming effect would be more noticeable than it would be with brighter, bigger, farther-out stars.
Just a few months after the MEarth Project began, graduate student Zachory Berta spotted the signature of GJ 1214b's 38-hour orbit. Based on the pattern of the dimming, the team figured out that the planet was 2.7 times as wide as Earth.
The astronomers then turned to another instrument, the HARPS spectrometer on the European Southern Observatory's La Silla telescope in Chile, to figure out the planet's mass. Such mass calculations depend on another technique that checks for the slight wobble in a star's motion caused by a planet's gravitational pull. The HARPS observations indicated that the planet was 6.55 times as massive as Earth.
Putting those measurements together, the team was able to model the planet's density and composition. The best fit for the data was a mixture consisting of about three-quarters water and other ices, one-quarter rock and a gaseous atmosphere.
Implications of a water world
Although the surface temperature on GJ 1214b would be well above water's boiling point on Earth's surface, Charbonneau said the planet could nonetheless possess an exotic form of liquid water due to extreme atmospheric pressure at the surface. In today's news release, Berta said the pressure may turn at least some of the water into a rare crystalline form known as ice-seven.
"Despite its hot temperature, this appears to be a water world," Berta said.
On Earth, organisms have been found living near deep-sea hydrothermal vents, where superheated water is held under high pressure. But Charbonneau said he wouldn't want to bet that life could endure under GJ 1214b's crushing conditions.
In fact, it's too early to bet heavily on any detailed description of GJ 1214b. Fortunately, Charbonneau said, the star is close enough that the Hubble Space Telescope could someday analyze the composition of the planet's atmosphere. "That will make it the first super-Earth with a confirmed atmosphere - even though that atmosphere probably won't be hospitable to life as we know it," he said.
Knowing what the atmosphere is made of, and how thick it is, could help astronomers determine whether their characterization of GJ 1214b as a water world is correct. "It's possible that what you have is a ball of rock with a much bigger envelope of light gas," Charbonneau said.
The larger implication of the Nature study is that other super-Earths may be waiting out there with just the right conditions for life. "We found this planet in the first six months," Charbonneau noted. "We had only looked at a small fraction of the stars that we planned to look at through the entire project. That means that either we got really lucky - which is possible - or these planets are common."
Two planet-hunting spacecraft, NASA's Kepler and the European Space Agency's COROT, are expected to find hundreds of super-Earths and Earth-sized planets in the years to come. The first scientific results from the Kepler mission are due to be reported next month in Washington at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

09 December 2009

Solar Plant in Space Gets Go-Ahead

From: http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/solar-plant-in-space-gets-go-ahead/

Solar Plant in Space Gets Go-Ahead

by Todd Wood

California regulators on Thursday went where no regulators have gone before — approving a utility contract for the nation’sfirst space-based solar power plant.
The 200-megawatt orbiting solar farm would convert solar energy collected in space into radio frequency waves, which would be beamed to a ground station near Fresno, Calif. The radio waves would then be transformed back into electricity and fed into the power grid.
“At the conceptual level, the advantages of space-based systems are significant,” said Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, during a hearing on Thursday. “This technology would offer around-the-clock access to clean renewable energy, and while there’s no doubt this project has many hurdles to overcome, both regulatory and technological, it’s hard to argue with the audacity of the project.”

“It’s hard to argue with the audacity of the project.”

A Southern California start-up called Solaren will loft components for the solar power plant into orbit and sell the electricity it generates to Pacific Gas and Electric, the major utility in Northern California, under a 15-year contract. The project is supposed to be turned on in 2016.

Solaren, founded by veterans of Hughes Aircraft, Boeing and Lockheed, plans to deploy a free-floating inflatable Mylar mirror one kilometer (0.62 miles) in diameter. This will collect and concentrate sunlight on a smaller mirror, that in turn will focus the rays on photovoltaic modules, according to the company’s patent.
In an interview with Grist in April, Gary Spirnak, Solaren’s chief executive, said that the vital part of making a space-based solar farm economically viable was to take the weight out of the system to reduce the number of rocket launches.
Still, Mr. Spirnak, who previously ran space shuttle flights for the United States Air Force, acknowledged that putting a solar power plant in space would cost a few billion dollars more than a terrestrial photovoltaic farm generating the equivalent amount of electricity.
The rate that P.G.& E. agreed to pay Solaren for the electricity produced by the solar station remains confidential. Also, regulators said on Thursday that the utility could not count the project toward its renewable energy mandates unless certain milestones were met.

06 December 2009

Space Solar Power Discussed on Indian Defense Website Bharat-Rakshak

Space Solar Power discussed on Bharat-Rakshak, the premier website and blog on the Indian Military.
The poster asks:
1. What do you think is the potential for "Space Based Solar Power" to meet the energy needs of India?
2. Have you seen this discussed in the Indian press/media? (If so, please provide links or outline discussions.)
3. Who seems 'on board' with this idea? (Politicians, academics, business people -- kindly provide names.)

Citizens for Space-Based Solar Power

Here is another Space Solar Power Blog, the Citizen's for Space-Based Solar Power:
As of today, it had received 8,005 hits...small, but an increasing number of people have heard of the idea since its renaissance post 2007.

SGAC releases a film about the true facts around asteroids that threaten Earth

From: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=29733

The Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) Near Earth Object (NEO) Working Group has released a film about NEOs and planetary defense. The volunteer made documentary presents the opinions of international experts on issues surrounding defending Earth from asteroid and comet impacts.

The general public has constantly feared threatening asteroids. At the same time, scientists and astronomers have long analyzed the potential devastation that an impact from space could cause. Only recently, engineers have been designing realistic missions to stop these natural disasters. Encouraged by this fearful mystery that lies around asteroids, as well as by the latest intense planetary defense research, the SGAC NEO Working Group had the initiative of making a film that conveyed non-exaggerated facts about the dangers we face from space impacts, based on recent research and the opinion of international experts on planetary defense. The film can be watched athttp://www.spacegeneration.org/node/2681

[Film is in 4 Parts]

04 December 2009

China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) Reviews Space Solar Power

In a recent seminar coinciding with the International Conference on Space Information Technology (ICST09), held 24-28 Nov, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), held a special seminar on Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) involving researchers from MIT and the Space Journal.

03 December 2009

Controversy flares over space-based power plan

From: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34239347/ns/technology_and_science-future_of_energy/
...Last week, California regulators proposed a plan to approve a 15-year contract with the American company Solaren Corp. to supplyspace-based solar power to utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) by 2016. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has also teamed up with a private Japanese coalition to design a solar space station for launch by the 2030s.
Such projects encourage scientists who dream of harnessing the sun's power directly, without the interruption of cloudy skies and Earth's day-night cycle. Marty Hoffert, a physicist at New York University and one of the staunchest supporters of space solar power, suggests that today's technologies allow space solar power to provide energy as cheaply as the usual solar panel arrays on Earth....Hoffert has pushed for the laser beaming approach as newly effective cost-cutting measure, and even submitted a proposal with his son to ARPA-E, the U.S. Department of Energy's new agency.  "The cost to first power doesn't have to be in the hundreds of billions," Hoffert said. His proposal includes laser transmission tests on the ground in an NYU lab, and then a space experiment launched to the International Space Station.

Jeff Foust Reviews Energy Crisis Solution From Space


18 November 2009

Braun lays out a brilliant vision

It is terrific news that there is a committe to review NIAC, which for such a miniscule budget (~1$M) provided such a goldmine of imagination and innovative thinking.  And fantastic to see someone on the board put together a list so similar to what has been advocated in this Blog.  Kudo's Dr. Braun (Co-Chair of the Committee to Review the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board National Research Council)

Testimony given to the Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics :: October 22, 2009

Strengthening NASA’s Technology Development Programs

Dr. Braun Makes this statement in his testimony-

"I share with these recent high-school graduates a list of accomplishments that I believe our nationʼs civil aeronautics and space program is capable of achieving in my lifetime:

Ten Anticipated Paradigm-Changing Civil Aeronautics and Space Advances
1) Quantify Causes, Trends and Effects of Long-Term Earth Climate Change
2) Accurately Forecast the Emergence of Major Storms and Natural Disasters
3) Develop and Utilize Efficient Space-Based Energy Sources
4) Prepare an Asteroid Defense
5) Identify Life Elsewhere in our Solar System
6) Identify Earth-like Worlds Around Other Stars
7) Initiate Interstellar Robotic Exploration
8) Achieve Reliable Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Transportation
9) Achieve Affordable Supersonic Business Travel
10) Achieve Permanent Human Presence Beyond the Cradle of Earth"

12 November 2009

Ask Me about Space Solar Power: Space Solar T-Shirts and Coffee Cups!

You can now display your vision for the future of Space Power...hats, coffee cups, etc.

10 November 2009

Japan eyes solar station in space

Japan eyes solar station in space (AP)

November 8, 2009
By Karyn Poupee
TOKYO (AFP) – It may sound like a sci-fi vision, but Japan's space agency is dead serious: by 2030 it wants to collect solar power in space and zap it down to Earth, using laser beams or microwaves.
The government has just picked a group of companies and a team of researchers tasked with turning the ambitious, multi-billion-dollar dream of unlimited clean energy into reality in coming decades.
With few energy resources of its own and heavily reliant on oil imports, Japan has long been a leader in solar and other renewable energies and this year set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.
But Japan's boldest plan to date is the Space Solar Power System (SSPS), in which arrays of photovoltaic dishes several square kilometres (square miles) in size would hover in geostationary orbit outside the Earth's atmosphere.
"Since solar power is a clean and inexhaustible energy source, we believe that this system will be able to help solve the problems of energy shortage and global warming," researchers at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of the project participants, wrote in a report.
"The sun's rays abound in space."
The solar cells would capture the solar energy, which is at least five times stronger in space than on Earth, and beam it down to the ground through clusters of lasers or microwaves.
These would be collected by gigantic parabolic antennae, likely to be located in restricted areas at sea or on dam reservoirs, said Tadashige Takiya, a spokesman at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The researchers are targeting a one gigawatt system, equivalent to a medium-sized atomic power plant, that would produce electricity at eight yen (cents) per kilowatt-hour, six times cheaper than its current cost in Japan.
The challenge -- including transporting the components to space -- may appear gigantic, but Japan has been pursuing the project since 1998, with some 130 researchers studying it under JAXA's oversight.
Last month Japan's Economy and Trade Ministry and the Science Ministry took another step toward making the project a reality, by selecting several Japanese high-tech giants as participants in the project.
The consortium, named the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer, also includes Mitsubishi Electric, NEC, Fujitsu and Sharp.
The project's roadmap outlined several steps that would need to be taken before a full-blown launch in 2030.
Within several years, "a satellite designed to test the transmission by microwave should be put into low orbit with a Japanese rocket," said Tatsuhito Fujita, one of the JAXA researchers heading the project.
The next step, expected around 2020, would be to launch and test a large flexible photovoltaic structure with 10 megawatt power capacity, to be followed by a 250 megawatt prototype.
This would help evaluate the project's financial viability, say officials. The final aim is to produce electricity cheap enough to compete with other alternative energy sources.
JAXA says the transmission technology would be safe but concedes it would have to convince the public, which may harbour images of laser beams shooting down from the sky, roasting birds or slicing up aircraft in mid-air.
According to a 2004 study by JAXA, the words 'laser' and 'microwave' caused the most concern among the 1,000 people questioned.

05 November 2009

Space Based Solar Power on TED

Peter Sage from SpaceEnergy lays out the case for Space Based Solar Power


Also, Space Solar Power made #1 of WSJ's top "Five Technologies that Could Change Everything":
From: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703746604574461342682276898.html


For more than three decades, visionaries have imagined tapping solar power where the sun always shines—in space. If we could place giant solar panels in orbit around the Earth, and beam even a fraction of the available energy back to Earth, they could deliver nonstop electricity to any place on the planet.

Source: New Scientist
Sunlight is reflected off giant orbiting mirrors to an array of photovoltaic cells; the light is converted to electricity and then changed into microwaves, which are beamed to earth. Ground-based antennas capture the microwave energy and convert it back to electricity, which is sent to the grid.

The technology may sound like science fiction, but it's simple: Solar panels in orbit about 22,000 miles up beam energy in the form of microwaves to earth, where it's turned into electricity and plugged into the grid. (The low-powered beams are considered safe.) A ground receiving station a mile in diameter could deliver about 1,000 megawatts—enough to power on average about 1,000 U.S. homes.

The cost of sending solar collectors into space is the biggest obstacle, so it's necessary to design a system lightweight enough to require only a few launches. A handful of countries and companies aim to deliver space-based power as early as a decade from now.
Blogger's Note, as of right now, that list of companies include: 
SpaceEnergy (http://www.solarenspace.com/)
Solaren (http://www.solarenspace.com/)
ManagedEnergy (http://managedenergytech.com/)
Welsom Solar
PowerSat (http://www.powersat.com/)
Packer Engineering (http://www.packereng.com/services/research_development.html)
Space Island Group http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/solarsat.html)
and several of the major Aerospace and Energy companies have displayed tepid interest.

01 November 2009

Stellar blast is record-breaker

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8329865.stm
By Victoria Gill 
Science reporter, BBC News

Astronomers have confirmed that an exploding star spotted by Nasa's Swift satellite is the most distant cosmic object to be detected by telescopes.
In the journal Nature, two teams of astronomers report their observations of a gamma-ray burst from a star that died 13.1 billion light-years away.
The massive star died about 630 million years after the Big Bang.
UK astronomer Nial Tanvir described the observation as "a step back in cosmic time".
Professor Tanvir led an international team studying the afterglow of the explosion, using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii.
Swift (Nasa)
Swift detects around 100 gamma ray bursts every year
He told BBC News that his team was able to observe the afterglow for 10 days, while the gamma ray burst itself lasted around 12 seconds.
The event, dubbed GRB 090423, is an example of one of the most violent explosions in the Universe.
It is thought to have been associated with the cataclysmic death of a massive star - triggered by the centre of the star collapsing to form a "stellar-sized" black hole.
"Swift detects something like 100 gamma ray bursts per year," said Professor Tanvir. "And we follow up on lots of them in the hope that eventually we will get one like this one - something really very distant."
Another team, led by Italian astronomer Ruben Salvaterra studied the afterglow independently with the National Galileo Telescope in La Palma.
Little red dot
He told BBC News: "This kind of observation is quite difficult, so having two groups have the same result with two different instruments makes this much more robust."
"It is not surprising - we expected to see an event this distant eventually," said Professor Salvaterra.
"But to be there when it happens is quite amazing - definitely something to tell the grandchildren."

Artist's impression of GRB production (ESO)
Models assume GRBs arise when giant stars burn out and collapse
During collapse, super-fast jets of matter burst out from the stars
Collisions occur with gas already shed by the dying behemoths
The interaction generates the energetic signals detected by Swift
Remnants of the huge stars end their days as black holes
The astronomers were able to calculate the vast distance using a phenomenon known as "red shift".
Most of the light from the explosion was absorbed by intergalactic hydrogen gas. As that light travelled towards Earth, the expansion of the Universe "stretches" its wavelength, causing it to become redder.
"The greater that amount of movement [or stretching], the greater the distance." he said.
The image of this gamma ray burst was produced by combining several infrared images.
"So in this case, it's the redness of the dot that indicates that it is very distant," Professor Tanvir explained.
Before this record-breaking event, the furthest object observed from Earth was a gamma ray burst 12.9 billion light-years away.
"This is quite a big step back to the era when the first stars formed in the Universe," said Professor Tanvir.
"Not too long ago we had no idea where the first galaxies came from, so astronomers think this is a profound moment.
"This is... the last blank bit of the map of the Universe - the time between the Big Bang and the formation of these early galaxies."
Italian National Telescope Galileo (TNG)
Data from two powerful telescopes confirmed the result
And this is not the end of the story.
Bing Zhang, an astronomer from the University of Nevada, who was not involved in this study, wrote an article in Nature, explaining its significance.
The discovery, he said, opened up the exciting possibility of studying the "dark ages" of the Universe with gamma ray bursts.
And Professor Tanvir is already planning follow-up studies "looking for the galaxy this exploding star occurred in."
Next year, he and his team will be using the Hubble Space Telescope to try to locate that distant, very early galaxy.

Asteroid Explodes in the Atmosphere: It reveals gaps in planetary defense systems

Yet further confirmation that we need increased attention to short-term warning for small threats:
From: http://news.softpedia.com/news/Asteroids-Explodes-in-the-Atmosphere-125310.shtml
On Friday, the American space agency released a full report, in which it gave details about the asteroid that exploded high in the planet's atmosphere on October 8, in the skies over Indonesia. According to NASA, the asteroid blew up with the strength of 50,000 tons of TNT, an explosion about three times more powerful than the one that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of the World War II. The recent explosion is therefore one of the largest ever recorded, the same source reveals.
Experts estimate that the asteroid was at least ten meters across, and that the extremely energetic explosion took place at an altitude of about 15 to 20 kilometers. The conclusion belongs to Peter Brown, who is an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), in Canada, and also a member of the team that conducted the analysis of the rogue object. There were neither casualties at ground level, nor any material damages following the explosion.
The new event, astronomers highlight, should draw the governments' attention to the fact that the Earth's defense systems are not even remotely foolproof. Experts argue that an asteroid that is at least 20 meters across can possibly cause a lot of damage to the ground, but say that observatories equipped to identify such small space rocks are very few. “If you want to find the smallest objects you have to build more, larger telescopes. A survey that finds all of the 20-meter objects will cost probably multiple billions of dollars,” Minor Planet Center Director Tim Spahr says.
The expert and UWO colleague Elizabeth Silber estimated the immense energy of the explosion from infrasound waves that were collected halfway around the world by a listening network, specialized in detecting hidden nuclear explosions. The two astronomers say that this is not a rare event. Such a small asteroid hits the Earth about once every ten years, which is almost continuous by cosmic standards.
The White House needs to develop a defense policy against these space rocks by no later than October 2010. The deadline was imposed by the Congress. It is expected that the decision will be communicated through a National Research Council report, due to be released by the end of 2009, NewScientist informs.

28 October 2009

Shiva Crater

Did a very large comet or asteroid strike (600 by 400 kilometers across, likely made by a body 40 kilometers across) the Indian coastline and kill the dinosaurs?

Shiva: Another K-T Impact?

Diagram of Shiva impact area. Credit: Sankar Chatterjee.
by Leslie Mullen for Astrobiology Magazine

Shoemaker-Levy 9 revisited: or The Geology of the K/T Impact Craters on Earth or Wiping out the Dinosaur with Five Simultaneous Impacts…or
Thomas J. Teters


CHATTERJEE, Sankar1, GUVEN, Necip2, YOSHINOBU, Aaaron2, and DONOFRIO, Richard3, (1) Geosciences, Texas Tech Univ, MS Box 41053, Lubbock, TX 79409-3191, sankar.chatterjee@ttu.edu, (2) Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech Univ, Lubbock, TX 79409-1053, (3) Exploration and Development Geosciences, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73069


CHATTERJEE, Sankar, Geosciences, Texas Tech Univ, MS Box 41053, Lubbock, TX 79409-3191, sankar.chatterjee@ttu.edu and MEHROTRA, Naresh M., Paleobotany, Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleobotany, 53 University Road, Lucknow, 226007, India

Shiva: Another K-T impact?
by Leslie Mullen