Saturday, April 16, 2011

NASA : sky-map data's stellar spectacular


Nasa has released a trove of data from its sky-mapping mission, allowing scientists and anyone with internet access to peruse millions of galaxies, stars, asteroids and other hard-to-see objects.

Many of the targets in the celestial catalogue released online this week have been previously observed, but there are significant new discoveries. The mission’s finds include more than 33,000 new asteroids floating between Mars and Jupiter and 20 comets.

Nasa launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which carried an infrared telescope, in December 2009 to scan the cosmos in finer detail than previous missions. The spacecraft, known as WISE, mapped the sky one and a half times during its 14-month mission, snapping more than 2.5 million images from its polar orbit.

The spacecraft’s ability to detect heat glow helps it find dusty, cold and distant objects that are often invisible to regular telescopes.

The batch of images made available represents a little over half of what has been observed in the all-sky survey. The full cosmic census is due for release next spring.

“The spectacular new data just released remind us that we have many new neighbours,” said Pete Schultz, a space scientist at Brown University, who had no role in the project.




University of Alabama astronomer William Keel already started mining the database for quasars – compact, bright objects powered by super-massive black holes.

“If I see a galaxy with highly ionised gas clouds in its outskirts and no infrared evidence of a hidden quasar, that’s a sign that the quasar has essentially shut down in the last 30,000 to 50,000 years,” Mr Keel said.

WISE ran out of coolant in October, making it unable to chill its heat-sensitive instruments and observe faraway objects. So it instead spent the next four months seeking out near-Earth asteroids and comets that should help scientists better calculate whether any are potentially threatening. The spacecraft went into hibernation in February.

The mission, managed by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was hundreds of times more sensitive than its predecessor, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which launched in 1983 and made the first all-sky map in infrared wavelength.

:: Virgin Galactic, the spaceline founded by Sir Richard Branson, has put out a call for pilots.

The company is looking for pilots to operate its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft and WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, according to Antelope Valley Press.

Those selected would fly during development testing currently under way and commercial operations at some point in the future.

The company is looking for test pilots who graduated from a respectable flight school and who have a minimum of 3,000 hours of flying experience. Prior space flight experience is a plus, but not required.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly tourists on brief suborbital flights at a cost of 200,000 dollars (£120,000) per person.

SpaceShipTwo is based on the design of SpaceShipOne, the first private manned craft to reach space.

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/latest-world-news/2011/04/16/sky-map-data-s-stellar-spectacular-91466-28532120/#ixzz1Jm8pLWTI

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