Friday, May 29, 2009


In 1919, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) launched an expedition to the West African island of Príncipe, to observe a total solar eclipse and prove or disprove Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Now, in a new RAS-funded expedition for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), scientists are back.

Astronomers Professor Pedro Ferreira from the University of Oxford and Dr Richard Massey from the University of Edinburgh, along with Oxford anthropologist Dr Gisa Weszkalnys, are paying homage to the original expedition led by Sir Arthur Eddington and celebrating the 90th anniversary of one of the key discoveries of the 20th century.

Einstein first proposed his General Theory of Relativity in 1915. It describes how any massive object, such as the Sun, creates gravity by bending space and time around it. Everything in that space is also bent: even rays of light. Consequently, distant light sources, behind the massive object, can appear in a different position or look brighter than they would otherwise.

The total eclipse of 29th May 1919 gave scientists the chance to test the theory for the first time. Eddington travelled to Príncipe to observe the eclipse and measure the apparent locations of stars near the Sun. Heavy clouds parted minutes before the eclipse and, with the Sun almost directly in front of them, the stars appeared to be shifted from the positions that Eddington had recorded in Oxford 4 months earlier – direct evidence that our nearest star shapes the space around it.

“This first observational proof of General Relativity sent shockwaves through the scientific establishment,” said Professor Ferreira. “It changed the goalposts for physics.”

To mark the anniversary, in partnership with the International Astronomical Union, São Toméan and Portuguese governments, the team will gather with local people for a series of public talks, the installation of an exhibition in the capital Santo Antόnio, and the unveiling of a plaque at the plantation where the original observation was made. Dr. Weszkalnys feels it “particularly important that in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, the dramatic role played in the history of science by a tiny island like Príncipe should not be forgotten.”

Eddington’s 1919 measurement of the bending of light was used to determine the nature of gravity. At the time, even Einstein saw no further uses. “But now that gravity is well understood,” said Dr. Massey, “the effect, known as ‘gravitational lensing’, has become one of our most powerful tools to study the Universe.”

Gravitational lenses work in a similar way to ordinary glass lenses, focusing and magnifying light – but on a huge scale. They enable astronomers like Dr Massey to see objects that are otherwise too far away or faint for even the largest telescopes on Earth.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

United Nations support space science education

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs has congratulated staff and students on the successful conclusionn of the Sixth Postgraduate Course on Space and Atmospheric Science at the UN-affiliated Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP). The Course is a contribution to IYA2009, and emphasises the importance of education and research in astronomy and space science.

The Course was run from the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad, India, which is one of the world's leading institutions engaged in astronomy and space science research. The organisation has brought many benefits to India, and in true IYA2009 spirit is generously making research and applications available to the local region and beyond through long-term training and courses which began in 1995.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs has wished all participants a very bright future and hopes their enthusiasm will continue to inspire them to explore humanity's place within the Universe.

For more information, please visit:

Star Peace event between Macedonia and Serbia concludes with great success on May 22,2009

After the difficult one month of preparations and weather concerns the StarPeace event between Macedonia and Serbia finally came true on the weekend between 22nd and 24th May. The event was held on the peak “Odvrakjenica” on the mountain Golija, near the city Novi Pazar in Serbia.

On this event there were participants from 5 astronomy clubs from Macedonia and Serbia: Skopje Astronomical Society from Skopje - Macedonia, AD Novi Pazar from Novi Pazar - Serbia, Astronomy club Aristarh from Kraguevac - Serbia, Astronomy club Univerzum from Backa Palanka - Serbia and Astronomical Society Ruger Boshkovic from Belgrade – Serbia. In total there were 11 participants on the event from all the clubs and we had one special guest from Brazil that also participate in the event.

The weather on both of the observation nights was good and we had good conditions for observations and for astrophotography. There were 7 telescope setups, from which 4 were used for making astrophotography, and 3 for observations, and two binoculars that were available to us.

As the goal of the Star Peace we tried to join our forces in everything that we did during the event. Participants were learning from each other different techniques about astrophotography, making together photos of different objects on the sky, and participating together during the hunting for the Messier and NGC objects in the sky.

During both observation nights there were more that 30 students that visited the event from the city of Novi Pazar that were really interested to have the chance for the first time to see the sky through a telescope. They were amazed to see Saturn and its rings, the colliding between the Whirlpool galaxy (M51) and NGC 5195. During their visit except of this objects they had a chance to see more than 15 different and beautiful objects on the sky. Also we gave a little task for them to try to count all the visible satellites of Saturn that were visible at the moment. Most of them were interested to learn the constellations, so during both nights we did a short presentation of the constellation in the sky. The ones that were most interested and could stand the cold during the night had the chance to learn more about cosmology and the creation of the Universe. Every one of the participants was giving their best to explain every question and uncertainty that the students had. You can see their excitement from all they had the chance to see and hear during both days; at the end they thanked us 100 times and tell to us to come another time and to show them again the beauty of the sky.

The weekend was fulfilled with a lot of companionship that connect the members of different astronomy clubs together, under one sky, so they can make new friends, tell about different astronomical experiences, giving advices about astronomical observations and equipment and trying to give their best to give their knowledge to all the children that came and visit the Star Peace event on Golija.

We can proudly say that the event went perfectly. Maybe the remote location of the observation spot and the high mountain peak didn’t allow for more people to come, but the point and the goal of Star Peace was fulfilled joining together people from Macedonia, Serbia and even Brazil. The International Year of Astronomy is still ahead of us and there is a lot of time to give our best to tell that astronomy is not just for the members of the amateur astronomy clubs and for people that are professionals, but also for every citizen of this beautiful planet of ours. The sky is one and the same for all of us, and there are no borders on it, the borders are just in our minds, and how much we can understand that out there, there are a lot of beautiful things that can connect us no matter of our nationality, religion or race.


O. Richard Norton passes away on May 17,2009 at the age of 72 :-(

O. Richard Norton(1937 - 2009 A.D.) passed away at Hospice House in Bend, Oregon, on May 17 after a long illness. A life-long educator and the author of popular books and articles about meteorites, astronomy and planetariums, Richard discovered his life’s passion when he built his first telescope at 14. His love for the sky and all things astronomical led him from an after-school job at Cave Optical Company in Long Beach, California, to a career in public science education.

While studying astronomy and meteoritics at UCLA, he was a lecturer at Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in Los Angeles. In 1957 he worked at the Nevada Test Site as a field researcher for the Atomic Energy Commission. There he witnessed the last 10 above-ground nuclear explosions and conducted research at the test site on the ecological effects of radiation. After graduation in 1960, he worked briefly as an optical engineer at Northrop Corporation and Tinsley Laboratories.

But he soon returned to his beloved planetariums. After 2 years at Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco, in 1963 he became Director of the University of Nevada’s Fleischmann Planetarium in Reno, where he also taught astronomy. There Richard designed the world’s first 35mm fisheye motion picture system, called the Atmospherium, which was used to project realistic time-lapse motion pictures of developing weather systems onto the interior of a planetarium dome. His first book, The Planetarium and Atmospherium, An Indoor Universe, was published in 1969. He was a planetarium design engineer and consultant for Minolta Camera Company in Osaka, Japan. Richard became the founding director of the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Planetarium in 1973, where he continued teaching and co-designed a fisheye projection camera system which flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984, producing the first full sky motion pictures from space. In 1978 he started Science Graphics, a company that manufactured sets of teaching slides in astronomy and other sciences for use in college level courses.

Richard loved teaching and sharing his enthusiasm for astronomy, the space program, photography, geology and telescope making. He gave public lectures and taught community education classes, even venturing into the Arizona State Penitentiary to teach in maximum security and protective custody. He led field trips to Cape Canaveral, where he had his fisheye cameras at most Apollo launches, and on solar eclipse trips around the world, from Mexico to Romania.

In 1986 he moved to Bend, where he taught astronomy at Central Oregon Community College for 7 years. In Bend he rediscovered his early passion for meteorites. His book Rocks From Space was published in 1994, followed by The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Meteorites in 2002. His wife Dorothy Sigler Norton, who is a scientific illustrator, produced the illustrations and cover designs. The Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites, published in 2008, was co-authored with Bend geologist Lawrence Chitwood. Many of Richard’s meteorites are on display at the Sunriver Nature Center in Sunriver, Oregon.

Richard loved classical music and had studied piano since the age of 7. In Bend he started a series of concerts called the Four Seasons, which were held for more than 10 years at the Norton home on the equinoxes and solstices.

Richard is survived by his wife Dorothy, his sister Gloria Berg, three children from previous marriages and a granddaughter.

International Earth and Sky Photo Contest on Dark Skies Importance

Two global projects of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, The World at Night and Dark Skies Awareness jointly organize the International Earth and Sky Photo Contest. Participating photographs should focus on TWAN style. Therefore the photos must combine some elements of the night sky (e.g., stars, planets, the Moon or celestial events) set against the backdrop of a beautiful, historic, or notable location or landmark somewhere in the World. They must show both the Earth and the Sky. This style of photography is called “landscape astrophotography”.

The special theme of the contest is “Dark Skies Importance”, so the image should try to impress people about how important and amazing the starry sky is, how it affects our life, and how bad the problem of light pollution has become. The contest organizers encourage participants to view examples of such photos on TWAN galleries. A special photo gallery entitled “Dark Skies Importance” is available on TWAN website. Educational article and tips on night sky photography is also available on TWAN online Education section.

For more information.please visit:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 photography contest is open to anyone of any age, anywhere around the world.

The mutual phenomena of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter

In 2009, the planet Jupiter will experience an equinox (it occurs only every six years) allowing the observation from Earth of mutual occultations and eclipses between the Galilean satellites. We will take the opportunity of the "International Year of Astronomy 2009" to encourage every one to look at these satellites and to make astronomical observations.

These satellites are very easy to observe and the mutual phenomena are accessible to amateur astronomers, to students and to anyone using even a small telescope. These phenomena are not only spectacular and easy to see, they are also rich in scientific information. Observations will allow us to improve our knowledge of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, objects as large as the planets Mercury or Mars: Io and its volcanoes, Europa and its ice crust, Ganymede and Callisto.

Then we call for more than observations only for fun: we also call for some more serious observations to be made according to some rules, simple but rigorous to be followed by the observers who have the material and the possibility to record such events. The data will be gathered and used for scientific purpose. Since the phenomena occur only from April to December 2009, we need a large worldwide network of observers to record as many events as possible. Observations have already started and some observers put their observations on YouTube at the address: In these videos is possible to see exactly what is observed during such events.

We intend to list all the participating observers who send in valuable data in a final publication in an international journal as was been done in the past after previous campaigns of observations with amateur astronomers.

More explanations are available at:

We would be grateful to the National IYA2009 nodes if they would inform all the amateur astronomers, students and high schools able to make astronomical observations.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Mystery of Black Holes:Astrophysicists Discover New Details of How Stars Collapse

Black holes have baffled astronomers for decades. The first one was discovered in 1975. Now for the first time scientists are watching them unfold before their very eyes.

As a child, Peter Brown, an astronomy and astrophysics graduate student at Pennsylvania State University in Philadelphia, was fascinated by outer space. "Looking at Halley's comet thru the telescope when I was, when I was younger had a definite impact on me," he says.

As an adult, however, comets weren't enough for Brown. He wanted to see bigger, brighter things. Now for the first time he's able to see massive newborn black holes. "What fascinates me is that things that we're observing are so far away," he says.

Working with astrophysicists, Brown is part of a satellite project called Swift. Swift snaps photos of baby black holes being born, revealing a messier birth than previously thought. Dave Burrows, an astrophysicist at Pennsylvania State University, says, "So instead of these things sort of being a one instantaneous event, they seem to go on for hundreds of seconds as the black hole kind of gobbles up material."

Researchers now believe after a star dies and collapses, forming a black hole, the black hole continues to cause havoc, devouring material while at the same time spewing it back out in a series of multiple outbursts of light.

"What we're seeing is a lot of interesting things happening in the first few minutes after the explosion that we could never really see before," Burrows says. Catching new glimpses of black holes helps scientists better understand how the universe formed and puts curious minds at ease.

"Black holes are inherently fascinating because they are sort of mind-bending concepts," Burrows says. Concepts that stargazers like Brown to learn more about.

The Swift satellite, used to catch black holes in action, is unique because it detects a light burst from a dying star and rotates within minutes to record the explosion. Swift received a "best of what's new" award from Popular Science magazine.

BACKGROUND: Astronomers have always thought that large stars die in one big explosion that creates a black hole. New data from NASA's Swift satellite indicates that a star dies through a series of explosions -- three or four of them -- before forming a black hole.

WHAT IS SWIFT: Swift was launched in November 2004 to collect and analyze data on gamma ray bursts and other higher-energy happenings in the universe. Using Swift's state-of-the-art X-ray and ultraviolet telescopes, astronomers can now see gamma ray bursts within minutes, instead of hours or days, and can thus catch a glimpse of newborn black holes.

WHAT THEY FOUND: Whenever a massive star explodes, first there is a blast of gamma rays, followed by intense pulses, or "hiccups," of X-rays. There have been hints of such activity before, but Swift has detected more than a dozen clear cases of multiple explosions. Scientists are now exploring several hypotheses to describe this new phenomenon.

ABOUT BLACK HOLES: A black hole forms when a massive star has used up all its fuel and explodes, becoming a supernova or its more powerful cousin, a hypernova. The reason the Sun and other stars emit light is because trillions of nuclear reactions are taking place at the cores. With core temperatures of millions of degrees, hydrogen atoms can convert into helium atoms, emitting radiation in the process. At some point, however, all the atoms are used up and no more nuclear fusion can take place. Without that outward counter-force to the pull of gravity, a star collapses inward, eventually reaching a point where the attractive gravitational force is so strong, not even light can escape.

The American Astronomical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Source:Science Daily,December 1,2005

Historic Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Ends With Successful Landing

The remarkably successful Servicing Mission 4 — the fifth and final visit of the Space Shuttle to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — came to an end with a picture-perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Sunday,May 24,2009 at 21:24 Hrs NST( Nepal Standard time).

Astronauts Andrew Feustel (partially obscured at top) and John Grunsfeld work to install the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) onboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on the third spacewalk of Servicing Mission 4. (Credit: NASA)

Servicing Mission 4 was an intense, 13-day undertaking that revitalised Hubble, making the telescope more capable than ever. All mission objectives were accomplished during five spacewalks that totalled 36 hours, 56 minutes.

During the spacewalks the astronauts delivered two new instruments. The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which replaced the workhorse WFPC2, is the first single instrument on Hubble to be able to image across the infrared, visible and ultraviolet wavebands. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) will help astronomers to determine the chemical composition and evolution of the Universe. Both instruments use advanced technology to improve Hubble's potential for discovery dramatically and enable observations of the faint light from young stars and galaxies in the Universe.

Astronauts were also able to repair the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) that were both affected by power failures. A nail-biting moment occurred when the astronauts had to conquer a stubborn bolt on a handrail attached to STIS before taking on the tall task of removing 111 screws to access the instrument's power supply card. ACS's powerful imaging capabilities at ultraviolet and optical wavelengths are now both available, although its High Resolution Channel could not be fixed. ACS now perfectly complements the powerful new Wide Field Camera 3, and the duo will be vital for the study of dark energy and dark matter.

Constant monitoring of the angles of Hubble's solar panels, which are turned by drive mechanisms with associated control electronics, was the duty of a specialised team of engineers led by Michael Eiden, ESA HST Project Manager for the Science and Robotic Exploration Directorate. The team of four worked 12-hour shifts to provide 24-hour coverage for the entire mission, supervising the positioning of the telescope's "wings", so as to ensure the safety of spacewalkers and maintain the integrity of the solar array hardware.

"We are elated with the performance of ESA's Solar Array Drive Electronics and Solar Array Drive Mechanisms — they performed flawlessly", said Eiden. "I have worked on all of the servicing missions, but to be able to support the last mission to this extraordinary telescope was particularly gratifying".

ESA contributed both engineering and financial support, with 15 percent of Hubble's development costs covered by the Agency. In return European astronomers receive a guaranteed 15 percent share of observing time. This fraction of European time reached peaks of more than 25 percent.

"Extending Hubble's mission and increasing its capabilities gives scientists, both in Europe and worldwide, new tools to learn even more about our Universe and our origins. The addition of Hubble's renewed capabilities to those just brought to space by ESA's Herschel and Planck telescopes, launched last week, puts an impressive array of complementary and powerful tools at the disposal of scientists, and makes this a great moment for the International Year of Astronomy", said David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. "These space missions are bringing an enormous boost to our attempts to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos and decode its history".

Hubble's upgrade is expected to extend the iconic telescope's life until 2014. In that same year, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch. JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and its mirror will have a diameter almost three times that of Hubble's. JWST has been designed to study the very distant Universe in infrared light, looking for the first stars and galaxies.Hubble will now begin a period of extensive testing and calibration. The first images from the new and repaired instruments are expected to be released in September.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Former astronaut Charles Bolden picked to lead NASA

Nineteen years after helping launch the Hubble Space Telescope, Charles F. Bolden Jr., a former combat pilot, Marine Corps major general and veteran space shuttle commander, has been selected by the Obama administration to serve as the space agency's next administrator. Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator for policy and plans and a space policy advisor to the Obama campaign, will serve as Bolden's deputy.

President Barack Obama meets with General Charles Bolden, right, and White House aides earlier this week in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza

"These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America's space program," Obama said in a statement Saturday.

In a moment of improbable symmetry, Bolden, the third African American to fly in space, met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday, the day the space telescope was re-launched from the shuttle Atlantis. The five-spacewalk overhaul marked NASA's fifth and final visit to the storied telescope since Bolden helped launch it in 1990.

An announcement naming Bolden as Obama's candidate to head the civilian space agency came four months after the departure of former Administrator Mike Griffin, a rocket scientist appointed by the Bush administration to oversee the shuttle's 2010 retirement and a planned return to the moon.

"The president could not have made a better choice," Griffin told CBS News. "Charlie Bolden is an accomplished pilot, a veteran astronaut and an old friend. He has spent his life in the service of his country, and our nation is the better for it. NASA will be in good hands."

The Obama administration struggled to find an acceptable replacement after deciding not to ask Griffin to stay on, reportedly considering several candidates before settling on Bolden.

Widely respected within NASA for his engineering judgment, leadership skills and no-nonsense approach to thorny technical issues, Bolden's appointment was broadly welcomed by space agency insiders.

"I can't imagine anybody that would be a better choice than Charlie," said Jay Honeycutt, former director of the Kennedy Space Center. "He knows the business of flying in space as well as knows how to navigate his way around Washington. He has a good relationship with Congress as well as the guys in the administration."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, flew with Bolden during a 1986 shuttle flight and has been lobbying Obama for weeks to put Bolden in charge of NASA at a particularly critical time in the agency's history.

"In all the problems that are facing the president, it's hard to get attention on this one little agency," he told CBS News. "He certainly hears it from me, but he'll hear it then from his own administration (after Bolden is confirmed). And I believe then we've got a chance of getting us really back into the glory days."

In a statement released today, Nelson said Bolden will face "budgetary constraints, technical issues, the remaining shuttle launches and the pending retirement of the shuttle program. And, restoring the wonder that space exploration can provide, and to make sure the president's mission is carried out."

"Charlie is the kind of dynamic leader I believe the president was looking for and I know he'll meet these challenges head on," Nelson said.

NASA is struggling to complete the International Space Station during the final eight shuttle missions between now and the end of 2010. At the same time, the agency is trying to develop a new rocket system for the Bush administration's Constellation program, which is aimed at resuming moon flights in 2020.

The Constellation architecture, calling for development of a new heavy lift unmanned Ares 5 booster, a lunar lander and a smaller Ares 1 rocket to boost Orion crew capsules into orbit, has come under fire from critics who claim alternative rocket systems can be developed faster at lower cost.

Complicating the political picture, the Ares 1/Orion system intended to replace the space shuttle will not be available until 2015, forcing NASA to buy seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station. Griffin repeatedly warned Congress about this so-called "gap," but the money needed to accelerate development of Ares 1/Orion never materialized.

The Obama administration's first budget supported the Constellation program in general, endorsing shuttle retirement in 2010 and a return to the moon by 2020. But the administration's 2010 budget, while boosting near-term NASA funding, slashed spending by $3.1 billion between 2011 and 2013. If that money is not restored, Ares 5 development will suffer and landings on the moon will be delayed if not eliminated.

Earlier this month, Obama ordered a 90-day independent review of NASA's manned space program headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. Options for how best to proceed will be presented to the administration later this summer. Depending on what the Augustine commission determines, some or all of the lost money could be restored to NASA's long-range budget.

Or none at all.

Despite the uncertain outlook, Nelson said he doubts Constellation will go away.

"That's just not going to happen," he told CBS. "You're not going to throw away four years of work on the Ares. So I'm not concerned about that. I think the Augustine commission will bless the Ares. The thing I am concerned about is to what extent Ares 5 will be rapidly developed so we can end up doing the lunar lander here and all of that on a target for 2020. And a lot of that's going to come out of the Augustine Commission.

"Even though we've got this concern, that the numbers are lean in the out years, I still have some optimism about us increasing that," Nelson said. "I think politics will play a part of it, because candidate Obama will be a candidate again in 2012 and I think Florida will be important. Florida will be bigger then, it will be 29 electoral votes and I believe ... they'll pay attention to us. So I'm concerned, but I'm not paniced about the out years."

Even so, Honeycutt cautioned that "I'm not sure anybody can handle this whole deal, but we'll see what comes out of the Augustine review. If they can pretty much stay the course, Charlie can do well with that."

Bolden's first space flight came when he and six crewmates, including then-Rep. Nelson, took off aboard the shuttle Columbia on Jan. 12, 1986. It was the last successful shuttle mission before Challenger's fatal Jan. 28 launch.

Bolden took off a second time on April 24, 1990, when he served as pilot of the shuttle Discovery to ferry the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

It is a given in the astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston that any flight assignment is a good flight assignment. But the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the most expensive civilian satellites ever built, was in a class by itself and Bolden clearly relished a chance to play a role in the showcase mission.

"Astronomy captivates everybody," he said in an interview at the time. "A kid in the ghetto, a kid on the farm, everybody at one time or another happens to glance up at the nighttime sky and they see these things we call stars and every once in a while a planet.

"You'd just have to be a non-human being not to go 'what the heck is that?' It has a fascination for everybody."

Bolden flew in space a third time as commander of the shuttle Atlantis for an atmospheric research mission that took off March 24, 1992. His fourth and final space mission was a historic flight as commander of the shuttle Discovery in 1994, a mission that included cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, the first Russian to fly on a space shuttle.

The only other joint U.S.-Russian mission up until that time involved the linkup of an Apollo capsule and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 1975, a mission that symbolized the era of detente.

"I would imagine there was a lot of effort that went into the science that was conducted, but I think the politics of it probably was the overriding factor back then," Bolden said.

"Although politics plays a pretty important part in this one also, I would feel that our primary effort is geared toward pulling the two nations' (space) databases together in order to optimize what we're hoping to do in the future as far as space exploration is concerned.

"We think the joint scientific thrust ... is of most significance," he said. "I'd be naive to say the political significance is not there. What we are hoping to demonstrate is that two formerly very strong, rival nations can come together, work together toward a common goal and achieve much more than either could have done alone."

Born Aug. 19, 1946, in Columbia, S.C., Bolden earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Naval Academy in 1968 and a master's degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1978.

He accepted a commission in the Marine Corps following graduation from Annapolis in 1968 and after flight training at Pensacola, Fla., and other bases he was designated a naval aviator in May 1970.

In 1973, Bolden flew more than 100 missions into North and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia while based at Nam Phong, Thailand.

After returning to the United States, Bolden began a two-year tour as a Marine Corps selection officer in Los Angeles. He spent the next three years at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, Calif.

In 1979, Bolden graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., and was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center's systems engineering and strike aircraft test directorates. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1980,

Bolden, who lists his hobbies as racquetball, running and first day cover collecting, is married to the former Alexis Walker of Columbia, S.C.. The couple has two children.

He is a member of the Marine Corps Association, the Montford Point Marine Association, the U.S. Naval Institute and he is a lifetime member of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. He is a recipient of the Air Medal, the Strike-Flight Medal, the University of Southern California Outstanding Alumni Award and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Bolden left NASA in 1994 and returned to active duty in the Marine Corps. He retired from the corps in 2002.

Source:Space Flight now

Millisecond pulsar mystery solved !

Astronomers have watched a pulsar be spun up in real time by its companion star, turning it into an incredibly fast millisecond pulsar rotating at a breakneck 592 times per second. This is the first time we have ever seen the process by which millisecond pulsars are created, confirming our suspicions that a river of matter from the companion star onto the pulsar is to blame.

An artist's impression of a pulsar being spun up by an accretion disc.Image: NASA/Dana Berry.

Pulsars are spinning neutron stars, the remnants of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae. They’re born spinning a few tens of times a second, firing out beams of radio and X-rays that flash, or pulse, in our direction every rotation. As time goes by they slow down, but the existence of older pulsars that are spinning faster than any others has always been a puzzle. The new observations made over the course of a decade have put an end to the mystery.

The pulsar was discovered in 2007 by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, USA, but upon closer inspection it was realised that the same star system had been imaged on several occasions previously, first in 1998 by the Very Large Array and then as what appeared to be a Sun-like star by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in 1999. A year later, it was seen sporting an accretion disc – a spiralling disc of gas torn from the body of a star, but when astronomers went back two years later, the disc had vanished. Now it appears to be a millisecond pulsar. What was going on?

The theory was that millisecond pulsars are spun up by gas wrapping around it from a companion star, like a spinning top. During the process of accreting the gas radio waves cannot be seen coming from the pulsar, but once the gas disappears the radio waves from the beams emerge. The fastest millisecond pulsar ever seen spins 1,112 times per second.

One of the intermediary steps before becoming a millisecond pulsar is that of a low-mass X-ray binary, which are systems usual involving a neutron star and some other small star. The companion of J1023 – the pulsar in question – is only half the mass of the Sun.

“Low mass X-ray binaries… don’t emit radio waves,” says Anne Archibald, of the McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “We’ve thought that low mass X-ray binaries probably are in the process of getting spun up, and will later emit radio waves as a pulsar.”

“It appears this thing has flipped from looking like a low mass X-ray binary to looking like a pulsar,” adds Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the United States.

This is the first time an accretion disc has ever been seen involved with a millisecond pulsar, and the sheer rapidity of the process explains why we’ve always missed it before. It is now hoped that J1023 will become a kind of Rosetta Stone for millisecond pulsars. The research is published in the 21 May edition of the journal Science.

Night Sky in May

-By Rishi Shah

The warm and clear night skies of this month offer the charming fascination of the planets and stars along with the thrills of numerous celestial entities that are spreading beautifully all over the sky. As the sky darkens the zodiacal constellations of Taurus (bull), Gemini (twins), Cancer (crab), Leo (lion), Gemini (twins) and Libra (scales) are seen unfurling across the sky from western to eastern horizon. Later at night Scorpius (scorpion), Sagittarius (archer), Capricornus (sea goat) and Aquarius (water bearer) are seen ascending the eastern sky till daybreak.

Constellations Bootes (herdsman) and Hercules (strong man from Greek mythology) are dominating the evening sky. They are floating almost overhead after sunset. Sparkling giant star Arcturus (Swati) that is sheer 37 light-years away festoons Bootes. Petit constellations Coma Berenices (Bernice’s hair), Canes Venatici (hunting dogs) and Leo Minor (small lion) are sliding towards western horizon. Cygnus (swan), Aquila (eagle) and Lyra (harp) are creeping into eastern sky. Their lustrously splendid stars Deneb, Altair (Sravana) and Vega (Avijit) sketch the Summer Triangle in the heavens. Long and slender constellation Hydra (water serpent) is slithering across the southern sky. It is carrying tiny Corvus (crow), Crater (cup) and Sextans (sextant) on its back.

Stunning open star cluster M39 decorates Cygnus. Its stars are barely eight hundred light-years away and could to be three hundred million years old. Depicted as two perplexing mice because of their apparent long stretched tails (caused by relative difference of gravitational tugs) these two mighty colliding galaxies (NGC4676) could be admired in Coma Berenices. They are three hundred million light-years away. As each spiral galaxy had passed through the other, they were pulling themselves apart. They would probably bump into each other repeatedly until they would coalesce in millions of years. Bewitchingly colourful reflection nebula NGC1333 sits superbly in constellation Perseus (mythological hero). It is fairly one thousand light-years away. The dusty regions indicate its tumultuous cradle of infant stars. Its chaotic surroundings could resemble the condition that had prevailed around our Sun during its birth that allegedly took place simply 4.5 billion years ago. Circumpolar constellations Cassiopeia (queen), Ursa Major (great bear), Draco (dragon) and Cepheus (king) are circling Polaris (Pole Star or Dhruba Tara) that resides in Ursa Minor (little bear) in northern sky. Constellations Camelopardalis (giraffe) and Lynx (fox-like animal) are moving towards them from northeast. Our glistening Milky Way Galaxy is rolling through Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Aquila and Scorpius.

Planet Mercury appears conspicuously after sundown in western sky in the vicinity of remarkable star cluster the Pleiades (seven sisters or M45) in Taurus. Planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune are gliding in the eastern sky before sunrise. They could be perceived well, if watched carefully with patience through the areas occupied by Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces (fishes) and Aries (ram). Ringed planet Saturn rises late at night and gleams alluringly in Leo. Dwarf planet Pluto roams lazily between Sagittarius and Ophiuchus (serpent bearer). Asteroid 14-Irene is dashing through Virgo. Meteor shower Eta Aquarid displays its shooting stars that emanate from Aquarius. It is expected to peak substantially on 06 May before morning in eastern sky. Its progenitor is the famed Comet 1P/Halley (orbital period of roughly seventy six years). Comet C/2008T2 (Cardinal) could be followed across western sky in Gemini.

Dubbed Himiko (named after ancient Japanese legendary queen) mysterious mammoth gas cloud mimicking huge primordial blob that could signal the earliest stages of our universe has been spotted recently. It is 12.9 billion light-years away towards constellation Cetus (whale) and could have been concocted near the dawn of time when our universe was eight hundred million years old, as postulated in Big Bang Hypothesis. It is equivalent to fourty billion suns and its span is modestly half the diameter of our galaxy (fifty thousand light-years). This cloud predates similar arcane blotches that were known as Lyman-Alpha Blobs (LABs), which had puzzlingly and elusively survived when the universe was merely two to three billion years old.

Himiko could represent ionized gas halo that surrounds super-massive black hole. It could be cooling gas cloud which could be analogous to queer antique galaxy. It could have also resulted from collision between two young galaxies. Furthermore, it could be outgoing wind of highly active star nursery or of a single giant galaxy. Only further envisaged investigation would reveal its true nature in future.

Light-year expresses the distance that light travels in one year. It is circa ten trillion kilometers. Any embodiment that is 12.9 billion light-years away is seen as it existed 12.9 billion years ago and its light is arriving at our planet just now. The Big Bang Model is widely accepted plausible theory for the origin and evolution of universe.

NASA’s SWIFT spacecraft has detected awe-inspiring most remote Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) labeled GRB-090423 lying west of Leo-star Eta Leonis. It is ostensibly thirteen billion light-years away and is six hundred million old. GRB arises when behemoth star runs out of nuclear fuel and its core collapses into eerie black hole or neutron star. GRBs release short-lived intense flashes of energetic gamma radiation and are extremely luminous. The full moon also popularly called flower full moon falls on 09 May. Venerated Buddha Jayanti is celebrated respectfully on this day. New moon is on 24 May. The accompanying star chart approximately portrays night sky over Kathmandu at around twenty hours local time during mid-May 2009.

Source:The Rising Nepal National English Daily of Nepal

Friday, May 22, 2009

Space Generation Advisory Council announces “Move An Asteroid 2009” competition

The competition focuses on students and young professionals to develop unique and innovative concepts for how to deflect an asteroid or comet that could impact the Earth. The Move an Asteroid Team is looking for sponsors to support the winners.
The competition calls for individuals or team of minimum 3 individuals under the age of 33 to write and submit a 3-10 page original technical paper on their innovative concept for mitigation. The 1st place winner is awarded with a trip to present the winning paper at this year’s Space Generation Congress (SGC) and International Astronautical Congress (IAC) which will take place in Daejeon, South Korea from 9th October 2009 to 19th October 2009. Entries are due on 26th June 2009. The winners will be announced on 26th July 2009.

The contest calls for papers to describe in technical detail a concept to move an asteroid or comet that is at least 50 meters in diameter. The contestants should make their own reasonable assumptions on asteroid composition, density, and orbit. It is suggested that the authors apply their concept on reasonable asteroid/comet examples. This competition is intentionally broad. Concepts can be very applicable to a large variety of asteroid/comets or targeted for a specific asteroid/comet. Contestants should attempt to understand the overall challenge of asteroid/comet mitigation.

For more rules and submission information, individuals can visit:

"Asteroids are an ever-present threat and the growing awareness of this problem is something future generations will have to deal with", said Alex Karl, Ex-Co-Chairperson of the Space Generation Advisory Council. "We are pleased to give young people a chance again to think creatively about such an important issue, and to introduce these people to the world space community at the Space Generation Congress in Deajon, South Korea later this year."

The Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) is a non-government organization with observer status within UN COPUOS dedicated to representing the voice of today’s youth on tomorrow’s space issues. The SGAC was formed following the 1999 UNISPACE III conference in which 5 youth recommendations were included in the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development. SGAC has since dedicated itself to the pursuit of these recommendations and to encourage youth participation in space exploration and its applications on Earth. Space Generation Advisory Council projects rely entirely on volunteer contributions and support.

For more information about the Space Generation Advisory Council, please visit:

With Moon Rocks in Hand, Parazynski Reaches Mt. Everest Peak of Nepal

We’ve been following former astronaut Scott Parazynski’s attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and now comes the news that he has successfully reached the summit, one year after a back injury forced him to give up his climb. “It was a wonderful experience, though and through,” Parazynski said in a Skype interview with Miles O’Brien, “and certainly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, both physically and mentally.” Parazynski brought several objects with him to the world’s highest summit, including rocks from the Moon, and remembrances of fallen astronauts. Parazynski is the first astronaut to summit Mt. Everest.

During the climb, Parazynski was doing research. “We’ll be collecting data for astrobiologists, looking for extremophile life,” Parazynski told Universe Today in an interview before he left for Mt. Everest. “If you understand how extremophiles live, you might be able to understand how life may have once evolved on Mars, or may still exist on Mars.”
Scott Parazynski on the summit of Mt. Everest. Credit:

Parazynski tested NASA-derived hardware, taking along a prototype lunar geology camera and other hardware for extreme environments. “Up high on the mountain there are limestone formations, which are wonderful places to look for fossilized life,” he said,” and we’ll also look for melt water and primitive forms of life there; algae lichens, etc. If liquid water exists even for brief periods on Mars it may be in similar conditions to what we’ll find on Mt. Everest. We hope to bring samples back for scientists to look at.”

Now that he has successfully reached the summit, Parazynski said he won’t return to Everest. “Once is enough,” he said, adding that his family is glad he now has the bug to climb Everest out of his system.

Check out all the videos of Parazynski’s climb at Miles O’Brien’s blog at True/ Slant, as well as more images from Keith Cowing at On Congratulations to Scott Parazynski!

And I just had to share this image of Parazynski on the summit after the sun rose. It looks just like Luke Skywalker on the planet Hoth at the beginning of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Scott Parazynski at the summit. Credit:

Look for an upcoming special on the Discovery channel about Parazynski’s climb.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

IYA2009 Boosts GLOBE at Night to Record Number of Dark-Skies Observations

The global citizen-science campaign GLOBE at Night 2009 recorded 80 percent more observations of the world's dark skies than the program's previous record-including double the number of digital measurements-thanks in large part to active participation and publicity from the network of 140 countries currently celebrating the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009).

Now in its fourth year, GLOBE at Night encourages people everywhere to observe the prominent constellation Orion at least once over a two-week period and compare the number of stars that are visible using their unaided eyes with a series of charts that show how Orion would appear in skies ranging from very dark to very bright skies. The program is designed to aid teaching about the impact of excessive artificial lighting on local environments, and the ongoing loss of a dark night sky as a shared natural resource for much of the world's population.

The 2009 campaign, held from March 16-28, garnered 15,300 geographically "mappable" measurements of Orion, nearly 7,000 more than the previous record of 8,491 that were contributed in 2007. Only 1 percent of the 15,456 observations in 2009 were "flagged" as not mappable. The percentage of flagged observations was reduced markedly this year thanks to a new online tool that helps identify the country from which the observation originated.

Measurements were received from more than 70 countries in the 2009 campaign, with 17 countries reporting more than 100 Orion measurements. About 73 percent of the total measurements came from the United States (approximately 11,270 observations), including all 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by Chile (about 900), the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom (both over 200). Other countries reporting more than 100 observations were Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Spain and Turkey.

In addition, 19 countries contributed another 1,474 "mappable" digital measurements using handheld Sky Quality Meters (SQMs). Two-thirds of the SQM measurements were from the US, with nearly 200 from Chile. Romania and Mexico followed, with over 70 and 60 SQM measurements, respectively.
For more

The International Conference of Young Astronomers in September!

The International Conference of Young Astronomers (ICYA) is a scientific meeting of undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students of astronomy and physics as well as more advanced astronomers. We, as young scientists, feel a big need to contribute our share to this year’s International Year of Astronomy 2009 and use this opportunity to establish global, annual conference for all scientists, researchers and advanced amateur astronomers who could meet in future and work together in projects which will develop modern astronomy.

For this reason we aim to arrange an international conference to broaden our minds and to discuss challenging issues of astronomy. Furthermore, and most important, the meeting gives a chance to get in touch with other young scientists, with whom we might cooperate in the future.

Our goal is to establish ICYA as a regular conference, held once a year in different countries, connecting young astronomers from all over the world. Let's make it happen!

This year ICYA is organised by the Polish Astronomical Society in collaboration with Polish universities (Jagiellonian University of Cracow, University of Warsaw, Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań, Nicolaus Copernicus University of Toruń, University of Zielona Góra, University of Szczecin and Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences) and hopefully will be supported by foreign universities and astronomical societies as well as international astronomical organizations.

The conference will take place in Cracow, Poland, September 7 – 13.