Buzzed By Space Junk or ET’s?


In 2017 Earth is expected to be “buzzed” by a mysterious object being tracked by satellites and called “1991 VG” because in 1991 it did its first recorded fly-by of our planet. In December of that year the object, which is about 30 feet (10 meters) across, buzzed past Earth as it continued in its orbit around the Sun (called a heliocentric orbit in fancy Science-speak). Stargazer James Scotti at University of Arizona’s Kitt Peak observatory, using the Spacewatch telescope, spotted VG in November and continued to track it as it passed by.

Observers noted that it shone brightly but this brightness would often go through rapid fluctuations. Scientists argued that this was indicative of it not being an organic object like an asteroid. Could it be a man-made piece of space junk that has been destined to orbiting the Sun until it disintegrates? Well, let’s see just how much space junk is out there in a heliocentric orbit:

American Space Junk

  • Pioneer 4 (1959)
  • Ranger 3 (1961)
  • Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Ranger 5 (1963)
  • Mariner 3 & 4 (1964)
  • Mariner 5 (1967)
  • Pioneer 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 (1966-1969)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 8 (1968)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 10, 11 & 12, & #10s ascent stage panel LM Snoopy (1969)
  • Mariner 6 & 7 (1969)
  • Mariner 10 & Mercury (1974, 1975)
  • Mars Observer (1992)
  • CONTOUR (2002)
  • Genesis, Spitzer Space Telescope, Kepler Telescope, STEREO-A & STEREO-B

Russian Space Junk

  • Luna 1 (1959)
  • Venera 1 (1961)
  • Mars 1 (1962)
  • Zond 2 (1964)
  • Zond 3 (1965)
  • Venera 2 (1966)
  • Mars 4, 6 & 7 (1974)
  • Venera 11 & 12 cruise stage (1978)
  • Venera 13 & 14 cruise stage (1982)
  • Vega 1 & 2 (1984-1986)
  • Phobos 1 (1988)

European Space Junk

  • Helios 1 (1975)
  • Helios 2 (1976)
  • Giotto (1986)
  • Ulysses (1990)
  • Herschel Space Observatory & Planck Observatory

Japanese Space Junk

  • Sakigake (1985-1999)
  • Suisei (1985-1991)
  • Nozomi (1998-2003)
  • MINERVA mini-lander (2005)
  • DCAM1 & DCAM2 (2010)
  • ARTSAT2:DESPATCH (2014)
  • IKAROS, SHIN-EN, & SHIN-EN2

Chinese Space Junk

  • Chang’e2

India Space Junk

  • Mangalayaan (2013-2014)

Despite the number of man-made objects orbiting the Sun, there are some space enthusiasts who eagerly await 1991 VG’s arrival, wondering if it might be an alien space probe sent to observe our planet. Scientists don’t know exactly what it is… yet. Here are some of the details they are certain of through telescopic and satellite observations:

  • It has a strange rotation.
  • It has existed a very long time in outer space.
  • It rotates rapidly
  • It has reflective fluctuations

Here are the theories bandied about as to what it could be:

  • Alien space probe
  • Small meteorite
  • Apollo 12 rocket

However, after researching each man-made possibility, they have ruled them all out. So, we are left with the possibilities of a small meteorite or an alien-made object. It’s reflective properties has scientists leaning toward a non-organic object which then leaves only an alien-made object left on the list. However, scientists also do not rule out the possibility of a Russian-made object that the science community is simply unaware of. During the years of the Soviet space program, they were very secretive. Information about failed space missions that resulted in space junk left floating about into infinity and beyond was often suppressed. So, there is the possibility that it is a bit of old, secret Soviet space history.

In tracking the trajectory of the object’s orbit, it can be determined that 1991 was not the first fly-by of VG. It also would have passed near the Earth in March of 1975. Repeat visits are another reason scientists rule out an asteroid or meteor because typically if such an object neared Earth like 1991 VG, it would either be trapped by our planet’s gravitational pull and either burn up in the atmosphere or crash (worst case scenario) or have its own trajectory affected and changed by Earth’s gravity. This object’s trajectory remains unaffected by Earth’s pull.

Because its orbit is very similar to Earth’s path around the Sun, some scientists speculate on the alien observation probe theory. Next summer Earthlings will get another up close opportunity to peek at the object as it skims over the planet’s southern hemisphere.

Edinburgh mathematicians have calculated the very real possibility that extra-terrestrials could be successful at launching observation space probes across vast galactic distances to spy on humans. Their work, published in the Journal of Astrobiology, asserts that by taking advantage of gravitational fields surrounding stars they could achieve the necessary speeds for an observation probe to travel to Earth from the far reaches of space of which humans are completely ignorant of and incapable of exploring. In fact, humans are already using this technology in the Voyager probes zipping about the universe.

Regardless of whether it’s a big space rock, hunk of junk or extra-terrestrial peeping Tom tool, the gringa has her calendar marked for the Summer of 2017. I expect interesting things to happen.

 

Sources & Image Credit:

www.motherboard.vice.com

en.wikipedia.org

www.ewao.com

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Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts


My cosmic sister, Bea, hails from Italy and therefore has a special interest in the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana). So, the gringa dedicates this post to Bea.

Since its inception in 1988, ASI has consistently made significant contributions to space technology development. ASI is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with NASA as well. Italy has been, and will continue to be, a key player in the international space exploration community. Whether it is technology that gets a manned mission to Mars or technology that helps Earth observers intervene to prevent or respond to environmental disasters, the world can all extend a “brava” to Italy.

Italy has three active space centers. Ten kilometers east of Matera is ASI’s “Space Geodesy Center”, which opened for business in 1983. Earth observation and imaging is the primary mission of the programs at work at SGC. The “Luigi Broglio” Space Center, in operation since the 1960’s, is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean near Malindi, Kenya. It has an Earth segment base and an ocean segment base which launch and control satellites. The center that manages and analyzes all collected scientific data (ASDC) can be found at ASI headquarters in Rome. Not only is data analyzed here but mission monitoring is also conducted at this center.

The primary missions Italy’s has high involvement with are:

  • Created Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello for transporting scientific research necessities to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Space Habitability – March 2001, Italy became the 3rd nation to launch an element integrated into the ISS, the logistics module “Leonardo”
  • Life Sciences – Biotechnology research to improve knowledge of: the aging process and effective countermeasures, immunology, technologies to enable the colonization of space by humans, therapeutic studies for improving the quality of life for all humanity
  • Bioregenerative Environmental Control Project (CAB) – to put it in plain English, gringa language, scientists learn how to recycle and repurpose just about everything into something useful such as: plant based life support system, water purification through transpiration, space greenhouses, etc.
  • Motor and Cardiorespiratory Control Disturbances Project (DCMC) is a program with the goal of improving the quality of life for people who suffer from neuromotor and cardiorespiratory disabilities.
  • Osteoporosis and Muscular Atrophy Project (OSMA) is of particular interest because of how conditions of reduced gravity cause these debilitations, that are typically linked with aging, to affect young, healthy, physically fit astronauts. The research goal is to understand how gravity controls the functions of bone and muscle.
  • Bed-Rest is a study that simulates the effects of zero gravity by having volunteers stay in bed for 7-120 days in a head-down position so that studies of the cardiovascular and renal systems can be conducted.
  • Earth observation and telecommunication with satellites: Miosat, PRISMA, ROSA, COSMO-SkyMed, PRIMI, and COPERNICUS
  • High Energy Astrophysics study is an Italian only programme that conducts research on the most violent space phenomena that occurs throughout the Universe. Satellites involved in this programmed: GLAST/Fermi, SIMBOL-X, SWIFT, PAMELA, INTEGRAL, AMS, AGILE
  • Cosmology and Fundamental Physics programme studies the evolution of the Universe. Satellites involved in the programme: BOOMERANG, GAIA, EUCLID, GALILEO GALILEI, HERSCHEL, LARES, Olimpo, Planck, Plato, Lisa Pathfinder

Lisa Pathfinder is the most recent success of Italy’s space agency that has made worldwide headline news. Lisa’s purpose is to detect gravitational waves in space. Italy designed the overall architecture of Lisa and is managing the project with the cooperation of Italy’s National Institute of Physics as well as ESA partners.

Lisa launched successfully last month and will lock into its final orbit around mid-February. This is phase one of the future construction of a space observatory that will continue studies of gravitational waves. Project completion is expected to be around the end of 2034. Italian scientists are beside themselves with pride that finally, after Einstein published his theory of general relativity over a century ago, the search for gravitational waves has, at last, begun, thanks, in huge part, to Italy.

And what else does the world have to look forward to from Italy? Of course, the gringa’s favorite space subject, GETTING TO MARS! Italy boasts leadership of both phases of ESA’s two phase EXOMars mission. In 2016 a probe will launch to orbit Mars and study methane and other gases as well as attempt to detect any presence of life. Later, in 2018, a rover will land on Mars and begin analysis of the soil. One more objective is to study any possible risks for future manned missions.

So, Italian suits, Italian shoes, Sophia Loren, Galileo, Michelangelo, and… astronauts, scientists, researchers, technology mavens. THAT IS AMAZING, ITALY!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.asi.it

 

Isaac Newton By The Sea


NASA recently reported images of an X-ray tail (or, ribbon) of galactic gas. It has broken cosmic records with the extraordinary length of 250,000 light years. The published images are a composite from combined data that originated from the Chandra orbiting observatory and the Isaac Newton Group (ING) of Telescopes that are located in the Canary Islands of Spain.

ING consists of two telescopes. One is named William Herschel (WMT) and the other is Isaac Newton (INT). They are located on a seaside cliff of La Palma Island and command a breathtaking view of the sea as well as the night sky. Isaac Newton began serving astronomers in 1984 and William Hershel in 1987.

ING is a collaborative effort of scientists representing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain. Their goals in serving the world community of astronomers and space related science is to provide world class telescope operations and programs that aid in research efforts. To encourage innovative methods in science and research, ING welcomes projects that involve novel instruments as “visitors”.  ING is committed to fostering original thinking as well as strongly supporting classical observing.

The Isaac Newton Telescope is open for visiting observers. New instruments are now being enjoyed with funding to provide more. One new instrument, the PAUCam, is a state of the art imaging device that creates prime focus capabilities for the William Hershel Telescope. A wide-field multi-object spectrograph is being developed for William Hershel and expected to become operational in 2017. This instrument will be part of a five year study to help understand how the Milky Way was “assembled”.

WEAVE is the name of the spectrograph developed for William Hershel. WEAVE was designed and built by a consortium of institutes from the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Although visitors will still have access to observe the heavens through William Hershel, much of the telescope’s time will be devoted to the study of three particular projects: 1. The archaeology of the Milky Way; 2. The evolution of the galaxy; 3. Dark energy and its nature. These projects create wonderful opportunities for the UK, the Netherlands and Spain to make important scientific contributions to the world community’s knowledge of outer space.

Resident student programmes are available with ING. Over the past decade, forty students have served in the position of INT support astronomers and have gained valuable hands-on experience and technical skills. In fact, since 2009, 53 PhD theses have been based on ING data. Announcements will be made in March 2016 about the details of the 2016/2017 programme which offers astronomy and astrophysics PhD’s, MSc’s. INT welcomes students who are interested in any field of astronomy or astronomical instrumentation.

Students stay in flats provided by ING and receive a modest monthly stipend. These are cozy abodes within walking distance to the observatories, however, ING also provides transportation back and forth. For one year students will have the opportunity to participate in supportive roles in the work performed by one of the world’s most scientifically productive and versatile telescope groups. They will become part of the professional astronomical family of La Palma.

To qualify for admission to the programme, students must be a European citizen or European student resident. Enrollment in an astronomy PhD or MSc program or in the final year of undergraduate astronomy or physics course is required. English is a must, Spanish is a plus. It is also helpful to have some experience with Linux/UNIX operating systems as well as IRAF astronomical data reduction software. While participating in the program, expect to work 37 hours weekly, day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. A valid driving license is expected as well as being able to pass a medical examination.

Four positions are available. Students report for duty in September. During the one year of service, students have a 25 day leave allowance.

Qualified students who are interested should prepare a cover letter presenting experience along with any other pertinent information to be considered. Two references are required. Applications must be received by May 1 via e-mail or snail-mail. E-mail contact is Ovidiu Vaduvescu, INT studentship program manager, ovidiuv@ing.iac.es. Snail mail contact info:

Studentship Programme Manager

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

Apartado de coreos 321, E-38700, Santa Cruz de La Palma, SPAIN

Fax: +34 922 425 401

And, if you are unqualified, like the gringa, but still interested in what goes on at ING, their website has an interesting feature that the gringa really likes. It’s called “Ask an Astronomer!”. You simply fill out the e-mail form and submit. It’s not just any ol’ email form, however. It also has lots of other information to pick and choose from. Click “send” and wait for an amazing scientist to school you on what you want to know.

Source: www.ing.iac.es

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org