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New Horizons probe eyes Pluto for historic encounter

By Jonathan Amos

Science correspondent, BBC News

When it gets to Pluto, the New Horizons probe will have a packed schedule of observations

A Nasa probe is to start photographing the icy world of Pluto, to prepare itself for a historic encounter in July.

The New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) over nine years to get near the dwarf planet.

And with 200m km still to go, its images of Pluto will show only a speck of light against the stars.

But the data will be critical in helping to align the probe properly for what will be just a fleeting fly-by.

Pluto will be photographed repeatedly during the approach, to determine the probe’s position relative to the dwarf planet, explained Mark Holdridge, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Baltimore.

“We then perform a number of correction manoeuvres to realign our trajectory with the reference trajectory, thus ensuring we hit our aim point to travel through the Pluto system,” he said.

Any initial correction is likely to be made in March.

The Pluto system has five known moons. Others may be discovered in the coming months

When New Horizons arrives at Pluto it will be moving so fast – at almost 14km/s – that going into orbit around the distant world is impossible; it must barrel straight through instead.

One complication is that the seven different instruments aboard the spacecraft need to work at different distances to get their data, and so the team has constructed a very elaborate observation schedule for them all.

But what this means is that very precise timing will be required to make sure the flyby runs smoothly.

The closest approach to Pluto is set for around 11:50 GMT on 14 July – at a miss distance of roughly 13,695km from the surface.

Mission planners want the exact timings nailed to within 100 seconds. New Horizons will know then where and when to point the instruments.


Dwarf Planet Pluto – Demoted but undiminished

mysterious shape to be investigated

Synthetic view Hubble’s best is a synthetic composite of multiple views. What are those shapes?

  • Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh on 18 February 1930
  • It is named after the Roman god of the underworld
  • An average of 5.9bn km from Sun and orbits every 248 years
  • Measuring its diameter is difficult but roughly 2,300km
  • It has a thin nitrogen atmosphere that comes and goes

 


The Pluto mission is being billed as the last great encounter in planetary exploration.

For people who grew up with the idea that there were “nine planets”, this is the moment they get to complete the set.

Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the “classical nine” to receive a visit.

Of course, this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere “dwarf planet”, but scientists say that should not dull our enthusiasm.

The dwarfs are the most numerous planetary class in the Solar System, and Nasa’s New Horizons probe is one of the first opportunities to study an example up close.

The first set of navigation pictures may not be anything special, but by May, the probe will be returning views of Pluto that are better than anything from Hubble. Come July, the view should be spectacular, said Andy Cheng, the principal investigator on the probe’s main camera, which is called LORRI.

As Rebecca Morelle reports, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only capture blurry images of Pluto
“The most recent surprise we had was with the Rosetta mission. Hubble had made a ‘shape model’ of Comet 67P but no-one expected it to look like a rubber duckie,” he told BBC News. “I am more than hopeful that we will get similar surprises with New Horizons – it’s what we should expect.”

Those surprises could include yet more moons (five are currently known) and possibly even rings like those seen around some of the bigger planets.

Pluto is currently 5bn km from Earth. It has taken New Horizons more than nine years to get to the dwarf’s doorstep.

Once the flyby is complete, the probe will be targeted at an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt – the name given to the icy domain beyond the main planets. Scientists think this region of space, and beyond, may contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects. Some even speculate there are far-flung worlds that rival Mars and Earth in size.

The first optical navigation images should be back on Earth by Tuesday at the latest. They will show Pluto with its largest moon, Charon.

The clip below is an interesting look at humanities probing of the stars. From the BBC series Explorations

 

Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

 

 

Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

By Rebecca Morelle
Science Correspondent, BBC News

'War of the Worlds' type plume

The plume appeared twice in 2012, and stretched for 1,000km

A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists scratching their heads.

The vast plume was initially spotted by amateur astronomers in 2012, and appeared twice before vanishing.

Scientists have now analysed the images and say that say the formation, stretching for more than 1,000km, is larger than any seen before.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers believe the plume could be a large cloud or an exceptionally bright aurora.

However, they are unsure how these could have formed in the thin upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere.

“It raises more questions than answers,” said Antonio Garcia Munoz, a planetary scientist from the European Space Agency.

Around the world, a network of amateur astronomers keep their telescopes trained on the Red Planet.

They first spotted the strange plume in March 2012 above Mars’ southern hemisphere.

Damian Peach was one of the first stargazers to capture images of the phenomenon.

He told BBC News: “I noticed this projection sticking out of the side of the planet. To begin with, I thought there was a problem with the telescope or camera.

“But as I checked more of the images, I realised it was a real feature – and it was quite a surprise.”

Damian Peach was one of the first astronomers to image the plume

The vast, bright haze lasted for about 10 days. A month later, it reappeared for the same length of time. But it has not been seen since.

An international team of scientists has now confirmed the finding, but they are struggling to find an explanation.

One theory is that the plume is a cloud of carbon dioxide or water particles.

“We know there are clouds on Mars, but clouds, up to this point, have been observed up to an altitude of 100km,” Dr Garcia Munoz said.

“And we are reporting a plume at 200km, so it is significantly different. At 200km, we shouldn’t see any clouds, the atmosphere is too thin – so the fact we see it for 20 days in total is quite surprising.”

Another explanation is that this is a Martian version of the northern or southern lights.

Dr Garcia Munoz explained: “We know in this region on Mars, there have been auroras reported before. But the intensities we are reporting are much much higher than any auroras seen before on Mars or on Earth.

“It would be 1,000 times stronger than the strongest aurora, and it is difficult to come to terms that Mars has such an intense aurora.”

If either of these theories are right, he said, it would mean our understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere is wrong.

He hopes that by publishing the paper, other scientists might also come up with explanations.

If they cannot, astronomers will have to wait for the plumes to return.

Close-up observations from telescopes or the spacecraft that are currently in orbit around the Red Planet could help to solve this Martian mystery.

Earth’s biodiversity is helping scientist to design vehicles that will travel through space and land on Mars and other planets. It’s called ‘bio-inspiration’ as this video clip shows.


France has a team of official UFO hunters

 

France has a team of official UFO hunters

By BBC Reporter Chris Bockman
Toulouse, France

France has a team of UFO hunters.

Thousands of UFO sightings are reported every year but not many countries are willing to spend money investigating them – there is just one dedicated state-run team left in Europe. Is France onto something?

You don’t need a time machine when you visit the French Space Centre headquarters in Toulouse – it’s already a throwback to the 1970s. Green lawns sweep on to wide boulevards with stout long rectangular office blocks on either side.

It’s almost Soviet-style in the heart of southern France. There are few signs of life even though 1,500 people, most of them civil servants, work in boxy offices along narrow unappealing corridors.

France has the biggest space agency in Europe – the result of the 1960s space race and President Charles de Gaulle’s grand determination to keep France independent of the US by building its own satellites, rocket launchers and providing elite space research.

An offshoot of all that – France is the only country in Europe to maintain a full-time state-run UFO (unidentified flying objects) department. There used to be one in the UK and another in Denmark but they closed down years ago due to budget cuts.

France’s UFO unit consists of four staff, and about a dozen volunteers who get their expenses paid to go on site and look into reports of strange sightings in the skies.

Drawing of Flying Saucer

A drawing from the files at the French UFO department

The team is called Geipan. That’s a French acronym for Study Group and Information on Non-Identified Aerospace Phenomenon.

Its boss is Xavier Passot. Surrounded by dozens of books on UFOs, and stacks of documents, he tells me his mission is to be as transparent as possible about strange sightings and to follow up on each one that his team receives.

They publish their results on their website which gets 30,000 hits a month. The team receives, on average, two UFO sightings a day. The department insists an 11-page form is filled out for each one. The idea is to provide details including photographs where possible but also weed out jokers and time-wasters.

If someone claims to have seen strange lights in the skies, the UFO team might go online to see whether the observation took place on a flight path – it can trace commercial air traffic going back more than a week.

The team also has access to military flight paths and is in touch with the air force and air traffic controllers.

Sometimes if its staff are really intrigued by photos they have seen or if there have been several witnesses to the same sighting, they will call the local police to ask whether they can be considered credible.

They might even check with neighbours to see whether they were out drinking that night or perhaps smoking something other than cigarettes.

Passot says many of the people who get in touch are smokers, puffing away outside bars or their own homes at night, gazing at the stars.

One of the boxy offices houses yellowing archives going back to the 1950s. The papers I look at contain eerie accounts of strange things encountered in the skies by fighter pilots on routine reconnaissance missions.

For what it’s worth and for those who suspect there’s conspiracy afoot, Passot tells me he has never covered up a UFO sighting.

I take a look at some amazing photos of strange lights and circular forms caught on camera. One, taken by a motorist, of a white ring shape above Marseille is particularly grabbing (the image at the top of this page). But the team figured that one out – it wasn’t invaders from Mars, just the reflection of a small interior overhead light in the car.

In fact, the department can explain away nearly all these phenomena and, believe it or not, the most common culprits are Chinese lanterns sent up at night during parties. The investigators often telephone the local town hall to ask if, perhaps, there had been a wedding going on at the time.

Balloons and kites floating in the skies also get mistaken for alien craft, and space debris and falling meteorites giving off strange lights are more common than one might think.

But there are around 400 UFO sightings going back to the 1970s that the French team cannot explain. One, an alleged flying saucer landing near Aix-en-Provence in 1981, they take very seriously – there were landing marks and multiple witnesses.

So are there really little green men? Well, the jury’s out on the colour but there are many working here, as well as others around the world, who are convinced there is some life out there.

And does the use of French taxpayers’ money on UFO research make sense, particularly in these times of budgetary constraint?

That probably depends on whether you just saw an alien and, in the words of those Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?

Do you believe in UFO’s and Aliens?

Here’s a clip that interviews 2 people who claim to have been abducted by Alines.

Here’s some more people who believe aliens exist.


Halloween playlist.

Halloween is almost here.

New Jersey Devil

Jersey Devil

The night when demons and witches, monsters and crytids come out to play.

Trick or treat?

Real or not.

Check out the playlist and decide for yourself.

There are more than 40 great stories in this playlist including the Jersey Devil, Mothman (Winged Creatures), el Chupacabra, Ghostly Creatures, Goat Man, and many more.

 
Halloween Playlist from Animal X. Scary stuff my darlings…. watch, if you dare….

Click on the Playlist dropdown menu at the top of the video to select which scary story you’d like to watch….


 

What do you think of these Halloween stories. Log in and leave a comment.

Here’s some information about the origins of Halloween

Panther

Alien Big Cat

Halloween or Hallowe’en (/ˌhæləˈwn, ˈn, ˌhɑːl/; a contraction of “All Hallows‘ Evening“),[6] also known as Allhalloween,[7] All Hallows’ Eve,[8] or All Saints’ Eve,[9] is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide,[10] the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.[11] Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows’ Eve revolves around the theme of using “humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.”[12]

Monster or Murderer

Beast of Gevaudan

According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals,[13][14] with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain.[8][15][16] Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.[17][18]

Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (or the related “guising“), attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfiresapple bobbing, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. In many parts of the world, the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular,[19][20][21] although in other locations, these solemn customs are less pronounced in favor of a more commercialized and secularized celebration.[22][23][24] Because many Western Christian denominations encourage, although no longer require, abstinence from meat on All Hallows’ Eve,[25][26] the tradition of eating certain vegetarian foods for this vigil day developed, including the consumption of apples, colcannonciderpotato pancakes, and soul cakes.[26][27][28]

India’s Mars satellite ‘Mangalyaan’ sends first images

India’s Mars satellite ‘Mangalyaan’ sends first images

 

Mars

The first image of Mars taken by the Indian orbiter

India’s space agency has released its first picture of Mars, taken by its satellite which entered orbit around the Red Planet.

“The view is nice up here,” tweeted @isro. A handful of images have been sent by the Mangalyaan probe so far.

Part of its mission is to study the Martian atmosphere for signs of life.

It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest. Nasa’s latest Maven mission cost almost 10 times as much.

Media in India have hailed the venture as a “historic achievement”.

The Hindu newspaper reported that the probe had “beamed back about 10 pictures of the Red Planet’s surface which show some craters”.

Officials were quoted by the newspaper as saying the pictures were of “good quality”.

line
Analysis – Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent
India’s space programme has succeeded at the first attempt where others have failed – by sending an operational mission to Mars.

It is, without doubt, a considerable achievement. This is a mission that has been budgeted at 4.5bn rupees ($74m), which, by Western standards, is staggeringly cheap.

The American Maven orbiter that arrived at the Red Planet on Monday is costing almost 10 times as much.

Back in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even quipped that India’s real-life Martian adventure was costing less than the make-believe Hollywood film Gravity.

Why India’s Mars mission is so cheap – and thrilling

Mars

Applause broke in the control room out as the news came through that the probe had entered Mars’s orbit

Reports said the camera was the first of the instruments being carried by the satellite to be switched on, a few hours after it entered into orbit.

India’s 1,350kg (2,970lb) robotic spacecraft, which undertook a 10-month-long 200-million-km journey, is equipped with five instruments.

They include a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and mineral wealth of the planet, and a sensor to track methane – a possible sign of life – and other components of the atmosphere.

India has become the fourth nation or geo-bloc to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and the first from Asia.

Only the US, Russia and Europe have previously sent missions to Mars.

Here’s a series of clips about the universe and what it looks like through some of the world’s biggest telescopes….


Nasa ‘flying saucer’ tests Mars tech

By Mike Wall, Senior Writer www.space.com

This artist’s concept shows the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), designed to test landing technologies for future Mars missions. A balloon will lift the vehicle to high altitudes, where a rocket will take it even higher, to the top of the stratosphere, at several times the speed of sound.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A saucer-shaped vehicle that could help NASA land big payloads on the surface of Mars is about to take to the skies for the first time.

NASA hopes to launch its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle — which the agency has dubbed its own “flying saucer” — Thursday (June 5) from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The balloon-aided liftoff was originally scheduled for today (June 3), but the weather did not cooperate.

“After years of imagination, engineering and hard work, we soon will get to see our Keiki o ka honua, our ‘boy from Earth,’ show us its stuff,” LDSD project manager Mark Adler, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. [NASA’s Inflatable Flying Saucer for Mars Landings (Photos)]

 

Mapping Earth’s Magnetic Fields

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

A field snapshot in June. Reds are strong; blues are weak. The view is dominated by the core contribution

Europe’s Swarm space mission has begun making maps of Earth’s magnetic field. Data just released shows how the field generated in the planet’s liquid outer core varies in strength over the course of a few months. Swarm’s early assessment appears to support the prevailing view that this magnetic cloak in general is weakening. Many experts believe it heralds a flip in the poles, where north becomes south and vice versa, although it would take thousands of years to complete. The European Space Agency’s Swarm mission was launched last November. It comprises three satellites that are equipped with a variety of instruments – the key ones being state-of-the-art magnetometers that measure field strength and direction. They fly in a configuration that offsets one platform from the other two. The intention is that this should provide a three-dimensional view of the field, and make it easier to tease apart its various components. In the release this week from Esa, we get a view that is dominated by the contribution (95%) from the core. But eventually, Swarm will have the sensitivity to describe magnetism from other, more subtle sources, including that generated by the movement of our salt-water oceans.

Change in the field since January. Reds are a strengthening; blues are a weakening

The maps on this page use the magnetic unit of a nanoTesla. Earth’s field typically has a full strength of some 50,000nT. The maps illustrate a snapshot (in June) and the change that occurs through time (January to June). In the latter, field strength is seen to drop over the western hemisphere but rise in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean. Earth’s magnetic field is worthy of study because it is the vital shield that protects the planet from all the charged particles streaming off the Sun. Without it, those particles would strip away the atmosphere, just as they have done at Mars. Investigating the magnetic field also has direct practical benefits, such as improving the reliability of satellite navigation systems which can be affected by magnetic and electrical conditions high in the atmosphere. “I started my career in magnetometry and the accuracy we had then in the laboratories was less than what we can fly in space now,” explained Prof Volker Liebig, the director of Earth observation at Esa. “So what we have on Swarm is fantastic, but we need long time series to understand fully the Earth’s magnetic field, and we will get that from this mission,” he told BBC News.

The Swarm fly high above the Earth in a configuration that offsets one satellite from a pair of spacecraft

Has the Earth already been mapped by Aliens? Do Aliens even exist? Some people say yes, others no. Here’s an interesting perspective from one of NASA’s astronauts including Story Musgrave and SETI’s Seth Shostack. http://youtu.be/MBK6eHWbwNc

 

Fire missiles at Mars to find deeply buried life

From NewScientist

07 May 2014 by Jacob Aron
Magazine issue 2968. Subscribe and save

space

Mars

IN THE hunt for life on Mars, it’s time to pull out the heavy artillery. A non-profit group has proposed a mission that involves showering Mars with bunker-busting missiles that would penetrate deep into the ground but deliver probes, not warheads.

On Mars, preserved traces of microbes could lurk in deep subsurface ice, where they would be shielded from harsh cosmic radiation. NASA’s Curiosity rover has a drill, but it only penetrates a few centimetres. “Curiosity doesn’t go very deep – it is literally scratching the surface,” says Chris Carberry, executive director of the non-profit group Explore Mars, based in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Future missions will go deeper but will have limited capabilities. NASA’s InSight lander mission, set for 2016, features a “mole” designed to dig down 5 metres, but it won’t be searching for life. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, due to launch in 2018, will drill down 2 metres in search of traces of life, but it can only explore a single Martian region.

That’s why Explore Mars last week appealed for funds for a project called Exolance, which would scatter small, lightweight projectiles across the Red Planet. Each missile would carry scientific instruments and would keep in radio contact with Earth.

The full article can be read here at NewScientist.com

Here’s a clip from Animal X Natural Mystery Unit talking to a scientist about bio-inpiration for vehicles to be used on Mars.

Here’s another clip that also looks at bio inspiration only this time it’s about making a suit that will let you walk on the ceiling!


Do you believe in aliens? Here’s some people that do…

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