Recently in Astronomy Category

GAO: James Webb Space Telescope: Project Facing Increased Schedule Risk with Significant Work Remaining

"With just under 4 years until its planned launch in October 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project reports it remains on schedule and budget. Technical challenges with JWST elements and major subsystems, however, have diminished the project's overall schedule reserve and increased risk. During the past year, delays have occurred on every element and major subsystem scheduleespecially with the cryocoolerleaving all at risk of negatively impacting the overall project schedule reserve if further delays occur."

ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis, ESO

"This new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. These are the first observations that have used ALMA in its near-final configuration and the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimeter wavelengths. The new results are an enormous step forward in the observation of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form."

Keith's note: This is a REAL IMAGE - not an artist's concept. Update: here's another - from Hubble.

Hubble Surveys Debris-Strewn Exoplanetary Construction Yards

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have completed the largest and most sensitive visible-light imaging survey of dusty debris disks around other stars. These dusty disks, likely created by collisions between leftover objects from planet formation, were imaged around stars as young as 10 million years old and as mature as more than 1 billion years old."

Earth at risk after cuts close comet-spotting program, scientists warn, The Guardian

"The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned. The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that narrowly missed Mars on Sunday, was shut down last year after losing funding. "It's a real worry," Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia. "There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn't know about it."

Siding Spring survey

European Science Foundation demands retraction of criticism in Nature, threatens legal action, Retraction Watch

"Amayo Moro-Martin, an assistant astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and an associate research scientist at The Johns Hopkins University, apparently angered the ESF with the bolded phrase below: ..."

A call to those who care about Europe's science, Nature

Researchers reel from defunding of only UC-owned observatory, The Daily Californian

"[Alex] Filippenko and other researchers blame fellow astronomer Steven Beckwith, the former UC vice president of research and graduate studies, for inappropriately acting on personal biases against Lick Observatory. Beckwith, Filippenko pointed out, is a former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute and has publicly belittled the merits of ground-based telescopes, such as those at Lick, in comparison to space-based instruments, such as Hubble telescope. "The guy has openly expressed in rather contemptuous ways his lack of interest in ground-based telescopes," said Garth Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy. "He views himself as a person to choose the direction of UC astronomy like a CEO in a company. But that's not his job." ... In June 2013, the UCO Board recommended the university terminate all funding for Lick. Following suit, UCOP will implement a "glide path" for Lick in 2016, phasing out all funding from $1.3 million to zero by 2018."

Save the Greenbank Telescope, Greenbriar Valley Economic Development Corporation

"On August 14, 2012, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee issued a report entitled: Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade; Opportunities and Challenges. In that report, the NSF recommended that two NRAO instruments, the GBT and the Very Long Based Array (VLBA) in New Mexico, be fully divested from the NSF Astronomy Division's research facilities portfolio within five years."

Keith's note: Planets orbit stars. Moons orbit planets. Planets and moons are worlds. Our solar system has lots of worlds and no two are the same - Right? "Planet" and "Moon" define where a world is located - not what it is made of. But it seems that NASA's New Horizons mission has decided that they want to unilateraly rewrite the definitions for these terms and, in so doing, confuse everyone.

NASA OIG: SOFIA: NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

"We found that despite substantial delays in reaching operational capacity, SOFIA remains capable of contributing to the scientific body of knowledge and many in the science community view the observatory as a valuable resource. However, we understand that the SOFIA Program is competing for limited resources and policymakers will have to decide whether other NASA projects are a higher scientific and budgetary priority. If the decision is made to continue the Program, we identified several challenges SOFIA will face going forward."

55-year old dark side of the moon mystery solved, Penn State

"UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The "man in the moon" appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no "face" exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State astrophysicists think they know why."

Keith's note: This is an odd thing to put in the title i.e. "dark side of the Moon" since this constantly changes - and yet this research focuses on a specific part of the Moon that does not change. So I sent a note to the author, A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Ph.D. Sr. Science & Research Information Officer at Penn State. She replied by email "As it says in the story, the "dark" side of the moon is the side that is always turned away from the Earth. It does not change."

Baffled by her response, I asked her (again) about this and she followed with really goofy stuff i.e. "yes, the "dark" side of the moon is called that because it is the farside of the moon and was completely unknown until the Russians sent a probe around the back to photograph it. It has absolutely nothing to do with sunlight -- as is explained in the story. Dark is used in the same way it used to be used in Darkest Africa. It wasn't dark in africa, it was unknown."

Scientists Finish Last-Ditch Plan to Save Infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, Space.com

"Spitzer likely can operate through 2018, Helou said. To get there, the project will have to trim its full-time staff, discontinue some engineering support services and cease efforts to make spacecraft operations more efficient, Helou said. There are about 45 full-timers on Spitzer now, including 27 at the Spitzer Science Center. The others are at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which is run by Caltech, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, which built the telescope."

Shutdown for Spitzer and MaxWISE?, earlier post

Keith's note: The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is making some sort of big extrasolar planet announcement Thursday. That's all we know (we have received nothing under embargo).

Keith's update: This announcement will be made on Monday at the AAS meeting.

2014 NASA Astrophysics Senior Review

Spitzer: "Given the budget climate, the SRP cannot recommend funding of Spitzer at the levels requested. Should the mission be unable to operate given the levels of funding recommended through FY18, the mission should plan, in consultation with NASA HQ, for termination."

NASA Response to the 2014 Senior Review for Astrophysics Operating Missions

"Spitzer Space Telescope: The Spitzer mission extension for FY 2015 is not approved due to the constrained budget conditions and based on the findings and recommendations of the Senior Review report."

"Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE): The MaxWISE proposal was recommended for selection by the Senior Review. However, the only source of funding would be to displace funding from higher rated operating missions in the Senior Review. Due to constrained budget conditions, the MaxWISE proposal is declined."

Earth-Size Planet Found that Might Hold Liquid Water, University of Michigan

"In a dim and faraway solar system, astronomers have for the first time discovered a rocky, Earth-sized planet that might hold liquid water -- a necessary ingredient for life as we know it."

New Rocky Planet May Have Liquid Water, SFSU

"San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane and an international team of researchers have announced the discovery of a new rocky planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface."

NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discovery

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday, April 17, to announce a new discovery made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope. The journal Science has embargoed the findings until the time of the news conference."

NASA missions bid for extensions, Nature

"... like six other ongoing NASA missions studying the Moon, Mars and Saturn, Opportunity's money is due to run out at the end of the US fiscal year, on 30 September. Managers for each mission are trying to convince the agency to cough up continued funding, and their arguments are due on 11 April. A 'senior review' panel of external planetary scientists will rank the proposals' potential science return, and submit their suggestions to NASA headquarters for a final decision."

Redesign of Planned Space Telescope Would Add Scientific Capabilities, Costs to Original Mission

"However, the inherited hardware was designed for another purpose, and the degree to which changes to the hardware must be made to accommodate a different launch vehicle and scientific requirements is uncertain at this time. This uncertainty contributes to higher technical risk and a greater likelihood that costs will increase beyond current estimates, the report says. The WFIRST/AFTA without the coronagraph was estimated to cost $2.1 billion, up from an estimate of $1.8 billion for an earlier design which was more similar to the mission recommended in the 2010 survey report."

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earlier post
- How Much Will the Free NRO Space Telescopes Cost?, earlier post
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earlier post

First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation, HSCFSA

"Researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration today announced the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity."

Studying Gender in Conference Talks: Data From 223rd American Astronomical Society Meeting

"The most significant result from this study is that while the gender ratio of speakers very closely mirrors that of conference attendees, women are under-represented in the question-asker category. We interpret this to be an age-effect, as senior scientists may be more likely to ask questions, and are more commonly men. A strong dependence on the gender of session chairs is found, whereby women ask disproportionately fewer questions in sessions chaired by men. While our results point to laudable progress in gender-balanced speaker selection, we believe future surveys of this kind would help ensure that collaboration at such meetings is as inclusive as possible."

SOFIA ... eine Erfolgsgeschichte ist in Gefahr (in German), January W├Ârners Blog, DLR

[translation] "As part of the current budget statement of NASA it has now let announced from Washington that the continued operation as of 2015 could no longer be financed. That would not only be a major blow for the science that has planned many interesting astronomical research for the coming years, but also for the relationship between NASA and DLR."

Did NASA Ground SOFIA?

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser in U.S. Science Budget, Science Insider

"A White House summary of NASA's budget notes that the savings achieved by reducing funding for SOFIA will enable "continued support for higher priority programs, including lower cost, competitive science missions, and extended operations for the Cassini Saturn mission." A more detailed presentation of the space agency's budget proposal, unveiled this afternoon by NASA, says the agency is in talks with its German partner to determine the best path forward for SOFIA."

NASA Media Telecon to Announce Latest Kepler Discoveries, 26 Feb.

"NASA will host a news teleconference at 1 p.m. EST (18:00 UTC), Wednesday, Feb. 26, to announce new discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope."

Kepler Has Discovered 715 New Extrasolar Planets

"NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system. Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system."

Looking For Other Earths

Looking for a Mirror, NY Times

"The challenges to photographing a mirror Earth are daunting, but not insurmountable. A small rocky planet is a dim mote of dust lost in the glare from a thermonuclear fireball we call a star. For every photon of planetary light that goes into making a picture, 10 billion stellar photons must first be filtered out; remarkably, researchers have already devised several ways to do this. All that the planet-hunters really need to find the mirror Earths is a big mirror, high above the Earth's blurring atmosphere -- a space telescope large enough to gather the faint light of Goldilocks worlds around a sizable sample of stars."

James Webb State Telescope: Meeting Commitments but Technical, Cost, & Schedule Challenges Could Affect Continued Progress, GAO

"Overall the project is maintaining a significant amount of cost reserves; however, low levels of near-term cost reserves could limit its ability to continue to meet future cost and schedule commitments. Development challenges have required the project to allocate a significant portion of cost reserves in fiscal year 2014. Adequate cost reserves for the prime contractor are also a concern in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 given the rate at which these cost reserves are being used. Limited reserves could require work to be extended or work to address project risks to be deferred--a contributing factor to the project's prior performance issues. Potential sequestration and funding challenges on other major NASA projects could limit the project's ability to address near-term challenges."

Finding Pandora and Endor

Sub-Earth-Mass Moon Orbiting a Gas Giant Primary or a High Velocity Planetary System in the Galactic Bulge

"We present the first microlensing candidate for a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system, MOA-2011-BLG-262, with a primary lens mass of M_host ~ 4 Jupiter masses hosting a sub-Earth mass moon. The data are well fit by this exomoon model, but an alternate star+planet model fits the data almost as well. Nevertheless, these results indicate the potential of microlensing to detect exomoons, albeit ones that are different from the giant planet moons in our solar system. The argument for an exomoon hinges on the system being relatively close to the Sun. The data constrain the product M pi_rel, where M is the lens system mass and pi_rel is the lens-source relative parallax."

Comet ISON May or May Not Still Exist

"Comet ISON went around the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. Several solar observatories watched the comet throughout this closest approach to the sun, known as perihelion. While the fate of the comet is not yet established, it is likely that it did not survive the trip."

- Comet ISON Streams Toward the Sun (video)
- Hyper Suprime-Cam Captures Comet ISON's Long Tails, NAOJ
- NASA Hosts Nov. 28 Hangout to Discuss Comet Nearing Sun

The Numbers Are Astronomical, Seth Shostak, Huffington Post

"So check out the Milky Way next time you're outside the glare of city lights, and ruminate on the thought that at least 33 billion habitable planets are somewhere up there. But that's just the local population. We can't see the entire universe, but the fraction we can see is studded with roughly 150 billion other galaxies; each with its own complement of habitable worlds. So the number of life-friendly planets that are currently in the part of the cosmos we can possibly observe is five thousand billion billion. That's a big number. It's bigger than the number of cells in all the people of Earth."

Keith's note: Think about it: these maps from the Star Wars and Star Trek Universes are now usable as illustrations of Kepler data. This is stunning news. What is baffling is how Ames PAO totally botched the release of this news - and the underwelming press release that NASA put out. This one discovery makes everything that Star Trek, Star Wars, and every other imagined universe envsioned now seem totally plausible. In some ways (read Seth's entire piece) it almost makes many of these fictional universes far more probable today than they were this morning before the news burst out on Twitter. There are now just so many damn planets out there that almost anything is possible. Yet NASA itself seems to be sound asleep when it comes to the profound ramifications of this news. Indeed, it looks like NASA really doesn't care.

- 1 in 5 Sun-like Stars Has Earth-size Planet in Habitable Zone
- One in Five Stars Has an Earth-sized Planet in its Habitable Zone

Dark Matter Experiment Has Detected Nothing, Researchers Say Proudly, NY Times

"LUX is the latest in a long series of ever-larger experiments that have occupied and taunted the world's physicists over the last few years. They are all in abandoned mines or other underground places to shield them from cosmic rays, which could cause false alarms. ... Larger instruments are already on the drawing boards of LUX and other collaborations, but physicists say the experiments are already sensitive enough to test some versions of dark matter that have been proposed, including the idea that dark particles interact with ordinary matter by exchanging the recently discovered Higgs boson. Dr. Weiner said he held his breath every time new results from a dark matter experiment were released."

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02 (AMS-02) Fact Sheet

"The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02 (AMS-02) is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector constructed, tested and operated by an international team. The AMS-02 uses the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe's origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter and measuring cosmic rays."

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, WIkipedia

"In 1999, after the successful flight of AMS-01, the total cost of the AMS program was estimated to be $33 million, with AMS-02 planned for flight to the ISS in 2003. After the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, and after a number of technical difficulties with the construction of AMS-02, the cost of the program ballooned to an estimated $1.5 billion."

Keith's note: $1.5 billion for a Dark Energy detector and ... no one seems to talk about it when future dark matter detection instruments are discussed? AMS is not "underground" as the New York Times' reporter claims all dark matter instruments are. AMS has been in the news with results - but mainstream media seems to not see it as being on a par with Earth-based dark matter gizmos. NASA PAO is not doing a very good job, so it would seem. Or maybe the New York Times is being lazy (it has happened before).

US scientists boycott Nasa conference over China ban, Guardian

"Nasa officials rejected applications from Chinese nationals who hoped to attend the meeting at the agency's Ames research centre in California next month citing a law, passed in March, which prohibits anyone from China setting foot in a Nasa building. The law is part of a broad and aggressive move initiated by congressman Frank Wolf, chair of the House appropriations committee, which has jurisdiction over Nasa. It aims to restrict the foreign nationals' access to Nasa facilities, ostensibly to counter espionage."

Keith's note: Some of the scientists who are quoted in this article with complaints about NASA have apparently been living under a rock for the past several years. Newsflash: It is utterly illegal for NASA to allow Chinese participation - in any way. Complaining about NASA's decision is simply ill-informed. Where were all these people when this law was being formulated - or when hearings were held on it? Dumping on NASA or boycotting this meeting is pointless - only Kepler will suffer. If a change in the law is what is needed then these people need to talk to Congress about that - starting with Rep Wolf.

Check H.R. 1473 (112th): Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, Sec. 1340. (a) to see the sort of prohibitive language has been in place for several years. NASA's hands are tied.

- Second Kepler Science Conference - Nov. 4-8, 2013, NASA Ames
- Previous China postings

Keith's note: As NRAO lays everyone off and starts to go dark, it posted this really nice promotional video for the VLA narrated by Ellie Arroway aka Jodie Foster.

If you go to NRAO you get a shutdown notice: "Effective 7 p.m. EDT, Friday, 4 October 2013, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) temporarily suspended all operations because of the US Federal government shutdown."

US Antarctic research season is in jeopardy, Nature

"The National Science Foundation (NSF) is likely to cancel the US Antarctic programme's upcoming field season if the US government shutdown persists through mid-October -- jeopardizing hundreds of scientists' work in glaciology, ecology and astrophysics. The agency has kept its three Antarctic research stations open during the initial days of the shutdown, which began on 1 October, under rules designed to protect human lives and US government property. But Lockheed Martin, the contractor that runs the NSF's Antarctic operations, has told researchers that it will run out of money by mid-October."

Government Shutdown Mars Arecibo Anniversary, Space News

"Operations of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are continuing for the moment despite the shutdown, observatory director Robert Kerr said at an Oct. 2 press conference here. He said the National Science Foundation, Arecibo's principal funder, authorized the observatory to spend what remaining funds it has on hand, although because the shutdown occurred at the beginning of the new fiscal year, there are few such funds available."

From B612 Foundation: "Since the government got shut down and NASA canceled the remainder of the asteroid workshop in Houston today and tomorrow, B612 decided to just go ahead and sponsor the meeting ourselves so the participants can still meet. Here is what we sent to the participants this morning:

Dear Asteroid Initiative Ideas Synthesis Workshop Attendees: To keep the asteroid initiative conversation moving forward, B612 is hosting an Asteroid Un Conference today Hilton Hotel @ NASA on 3000 Parkway from 2:30 pm to 6pm. Coffee and healthy snacks will be provided and other items can be purchased on your own dime. You can learn more about the unconference format here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconference. Essentially discussions in small groups will be created by whatever the participants would like to propose, i.e. one big networking session."

Keith's 11 Sep 7:00 pm EDT note: Looks like NASA will admit on Thursday that Voyager 1 has indeed left our solar system, but that it did so more than a year ago. NASA prefers Yes/No answers i.e. has it or has it not crossed that imaginary dotted line that is in place around the edge of our solar system.

The press event will be at 2:00 pm EDT. NASA has still not sent out a media advisory.

What's sort of funny is how all of the science types go back and forth as to whether Voyager 1 has or has not crossed this imaginary line that marks the boundary of our solar system - when no one has never been to the place where that line is - and the line is based on things we expect to find - but we don't exactly know when/where that magic line crossing will actually happen (or have already happened).

What I want to know is when Voyager 1 becomes VGER. Just wondering.

Jonathan McDowell agrees and wants NASA to rename Voyager 1 as "VGER" now - i.e. "Voyager Grand Extrasolar Recon".

What say you?

- A Porous, Layered Heliopause,
- NASA Is Not Sure if Voyager 1 Has Left The Solar System, earlier post
- Is Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space? The Debate Continues, earlier post
- Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?, earlier post

Keith's 12 Sep 11:00 am EDT update: NASA PAO finally squeezed out a media advisory.

NASA News Conference Today To Discuss Voyager Spacecraft

"NASA will host a news conference today at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT), to discuss NASA's Voyager mission. It is related to a paper to be published in the journal Science, which is embargoed until 2 p.m. EDT."

Confirmed: NASA's Voyager 1 is Travelling in Interstellar Space, NASA

"New and unexpected data indicate Voyager 1 has been traveling for about one year through plasma, or ionized gas, present in the space between stars."

Habitable Planets Around White Dwarfs: an Alternate Mission for the Kepler Spacecraft

"Our proposed survey requires a total of 200 days of observing time, and will find up to 100 planets in the white dwarf (WD) habitable zone. This survey will maintain Kepler's spirit of searching for habitable Earths, but near new hosts. With few-day observations and minute-cadences per field, it will also open up a completely unexplored discovery space."

Keith's 3 Sep update: Additional Kepler white papers have been posted.

- Kepler: Searching The Habitable Zones of the Brightest Stars
- Kepler: Asteroseismology of Solar-Like Oscillators in a 2-Wheel Mission
- Kepler: Monitoring young associations and open clusters with Kepler in two-wheel mode
- The Kep-Cont Mission: Continuing the observation of high-amplitude variable stars in the Kepler field of view
- The Kepler-SEP Mission: Harvesting the South Ecliptic Pole large-amplitude variables with Kepler

Keith's 4 Sep update: Even more Kepler white papers have been posted.

- NEOKepler: Discovering Near-Earth Objects Using the Kepler Spacecraft
- Searching for Terrestrial Planets Orbiting in the Habitable Zone of Ultra-Cool Stars and Brown Dwarfs
- New Uses for the Kepler Telescope: A Survey of the Ecliptic Plane For Transiting Planets and Star Formation

Soliciting Community Input: Alternate Science Investigations for Kepler

"The purpose of this call for white papers is to solicit community input for alternate science investigations that may be performed using Kepler and are consistent with its probable two-wheel performance. Herein, we provide initial information as to the preliminary assessment of the pointing ability of the Kepler spacecraft using only two reaction wheels. In addition, we provide baseline information on the Kepler focal plane imaging CCD array (Kepler's only instrument) and give estimates of the photometric performance that may be possible in two-wheel mode."

IRIS First Light

New NASA Telescope Offers a First Glimpse of the Sun's Mysterious Atmosphere [Watch], NASA

"NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft has captured its first observations of a region of the sun that is now possible to observe in detail: the lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere.

The first images from IRIS show the solar interface region in unprecedented detail. They reveal dynamic magnetic structures and flows of material in the sun's atmosphere and hint at tremendous amounts of energy transfer through this little-understood region. These features may help power the sun's dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drive the solar wind that streams out to fill the entire solar system.

"With this grand opening of the telescope door and first observations from IRIS we've opened a new window into the energetics of the sun's atmosphere," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The mission is a great example of a successful partnership for science between government, industry, academia, and international institutions. We look forward to the new insights IRIS will provide."

Kepler Mission Manager Update: Initial Recovery Tests, NASA

"The initial test began on Thursday, July 18, 2013, with RW4. In response to test commands, wheel 4 did not spin in the positive (or clockwise) direction but the wheel did spin in the negative (or counterclockwise) direction. Wheel 4 is thought to be the more seriously damaged of the two.

On Monday, July 22, 2013, the team proceeded with a test of RW2. Wheel 2 responded to test commands and spun in both directions."

Marc's note: It looks like there has been some partial success however there's still a long way to go before Kepler can be recovered to operate as it should.


Hubble Finds New Moon Orbiting Neptune, NASA

"NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting the distant blue-green planet Neptune, the 14th known to be circling the giant planet.

The moon, designated S/2004 N 1, is estimated to be no more than 12 miles across, making it the smallest known moon in the Neptunian system. It is so small and dim that it is roughly 100 million times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye. It even escaped detection by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew past Neptune in 1989 and surveyed the planet's system of moons and rings."

Hubble Spots Blue Planet [With Video], NASA/ESA/STSCI

"Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, determined the true color of a planet orbiting another star. If seen up close this planet, known as HD 189733b, would be a deep cobalt blue, reminiscent of Earth's color as seen from space.

But that's where the similarities end. This "deep blue dot" is a huge gas giant orbiting very close to its host star. The planet's atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometre-per-hour winds."

NASA Decommissions Its Galaxy Hunter Spacecraft, NASA JPL

"NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the venerable space telescope used its ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies across 10 billion years of cosmic time.

"GALEX is a remarkable accomplishment," said Jeff Hayes, NASA's GALEX program executive in Washington. "This small Explorer mission has mapped and studied galaxies in the ultraviolet, light we cannot see with our own eyes, across most of the sky."

UPDATE: Here's a couple of images released yesterday.

- NGC 4565 Galaxy's Pencil-Thin Profile
- NGC 6744 Big Brother to the Milky Way

Voyagers in the Heliosheath [Download Larger Version], NASA

"This artist's concept shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath, the outer shell of the bubble of charged particles around our sun. After more than 35 years of travel, the two Voyager spacecraft will soon reach interstellar space, which is the space between stars."

With the Public's Help NASA's Spitzer Telescope Sees Milky Way's Blooming Countryside, SpaceRef

"NASA has released new images the Spitzer Space Telescope which it characterizes as showing "blooming stars in our Milky Way galaxy's more barren territories, far from its crowded core" and the public, in part, helped NASA with these images.

The images are part of the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (Glimpse 360) project, which NASA says is mapping the topography of our galaxy."

Kepler Mission Manager Update

"The operations staff at Ball Aerospace did a wonderful job at developing and implementing PRS. As a result, the spacecraft is not in an emergency condition, and work can be conducted at a more deliberate pace. For the next week or so, we will contact the spacecraft on a daily basis to ensure PRS continues to operate as expected."

NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee Letter 1 May 2013

Issue: Removal of EPO Functions from SMD: "Finding: The result of this long-term dedication to education and public outreach is an extremely efficient process where scientists and educators routinely collaborate on developing high-impact content for education and public engagement. In contrast, the proposed realignment shifts all education and outreach efforts far from the actual science being communicated. The end result may appear to improve the process by removal of functional redundancies, but actually separates the content providers at NASA from the agencies tasked with providing EPO programs. This will likely necessitate new layers of personnel to interface between NASA scientists and educational professionals in the Department of Education, NSF, and the Smithsonian. Furthermore, the new implementation effectively counteracts the astrophysics community's long-standing dedication to outreach and education, by clearly making these activities "somebody else's job."

Hearing charter

"The purpose of the hearing is to review the recent discovery of three super-Earth sized planets by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Kepler space telescope. The hearing will also assess the state of exoplanet surveying, characterization, and research; NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program; National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Astronomical Science; as well as coordination within the government and with external partners. NASA and NSF both contribute to the search for exoplanets."

Prepared Statements

- James Ulvestad, NSF
- John Grunsfeld, NASA
- Laurance Doyle, SETI Institute
- Rep. Steven Palazzo
- Rep. Larry Bucshon
- Rep. Lamar Smith

American Astronomical Society Statement on President Obama's Proposed FY 2014 Budget

"The AAS is deeply concerned about the Administration's renewed proposal to cut NASA's Planetary Science Division, this time by $200 million compared to the 2013 level enacted by Congress and signed by the President last month. At this level, the budget precludes a major mission to any planet other than Mars after 2017, and precludes exploration of Europa, a high priority for the planetary science community. The request also threatens the cadence of Discovery and New Frontiers missions, which are a cornerstone of the Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey to ensure balance among mission classes. The U.S. planetary exploration program has a storied history and a compelling plan for the future. The AAS urges the Administration and the Congress to find a path forward that maintains U.S. leadership in planetary science, rather than ceding future exploration of our solar system to other nations."

Keith's note: When he was asked by Lamar Smith at House Science Committee hearing on NASA's FY 2014 budget why two James Webb Space Telescope instruments were late, Charlie Bolden then tried to push that off as bad news reports. Bolden went on to say that he has been adamant that he takes full responsibility for the progress of Webb. Smith then read from the recent GAO report "NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects" citing this passage:

"... In addition, only two instruments have been delivered for integration with ISIM and the other two instruments will be delivered at least 11 months late."

When Smith asked Bolden again about the two late Webb instrments, Bolden's reponse was: "That's news to me"

GAO Report on Large-Scale NASA Projects, earlier post

Kepler-62 Has Two Water Worlds Circling in its Habitable Zone

"In our solar system, only one planet is blessed with an ocean: Earth. Our home world is a rare, blue jewel compared to the deserts of Mercury, Venus and Mars. But what if our Sun had not one but two habitable ocean worlds? Astronomers have found such a planetary system orbiting the star Kepler-62."

New Earth-like Planets Found, CIW

"Theoretical modeling of the super-Earth planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, suggests that both could be solid, either rocky--or rocky with frozen water."

NASA's Kepler Discovers Smallest 'Habitable Zone' Planets to Date, NASA

"The Kepler-62 system has five planets; 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. The Kepler-69 system has two planets; 69b and 69c. Kepler-62e, 62f and 69c are the super-Earth-size planets."

2013 STScI Spring Symposium and Habitable Worlds across Time and Space Cancelled, Space Telescope Science Institute

"We regret to announce that the 2013 STScI Spring Symposium, Habitable Worlds across Time and Space, has been cancelled. Space Telescope Science Institute operates as a NASA contractor. Our contractual obligations include support of workshops and seminars. In response to fiscal impacts resulting from the United States Government sequestration, NASA has temporarily suspended the contract authority and all funding that enables us to host conferences and seminars."

NASA Hosts Media Briefing to Discuss Kepler Planetary Discovery

"NASA will host a news briefing at 2 p.m. EDT, Thursday, April 18, to announce new discoveries from the agency's Kepler mission. The briefing will be held in the Syvertson Auditorium, Building N-201, at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and be broadcast live on NASA Television and on the agency's website."

Keith's note: Not that this has any indiciation of what will be announced but Lisa Kaltenegger's Kepler-related publications all focus on small, habitable extrasolar planets and moons. (search). Thomas Barclay's papers also focus on Kepler and extrasolar planets. (search). These papers (by other authors) "The detectability of habitable exomoons with Kepler" and "Where to Find Habitable "Earths" in Circumbinary Systems" were submitted to astro-ph last week.

AMS-02: Shining light on elusive dark matter, ESA

"The findings hint at a new phenomenon but it is unknown whether the positron ratio comes from dark energy particles colliding with each other or from pulsating stars in our galaxy that produce antimatter."

First Result from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station: Precision Measurement of the Positron Fraction in Primary Cosmic Rays of 0.5-350 GeV, Physical Review Letters

"These observations show the existence of new physical phenomena, whether from a particle physics or an astrophysical origin."

American Astronomers Call on Congress to Support Investments in Research and Development, AAS

"The AAS delegation was part of a group of more than 200 scientists, engineers, and business leaders who converged on Capitol Hill for the 18th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD), held March 12-13 and sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group. CVD is coordinated by coalitions of companies, professional societies, and educational institutions whose members feel strongly that science and technology comprise the cornerstone of our nation's future."

More pictures, videos, etc.

Meteorite crash in Russia, Russia Today

"A series of explosions in the skies of Russia's Urals region, reportedly caused by a meteor shower, has sparked panic in three major cities. Witnesses said that houses shuddered, windows were blown out and cellphones stopped working. Atmospheric phenomena have been registered in the cities of Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen. Lifenews tabloid reported that at least one piece of the fallen object caused damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk. According to preliminary reports, it crashed into a wall near a zinc factory, disrupting the fiber-optic connections of internet providers and mobile operators. Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it resembled an earthquake and thunder at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth."

More videos below

At Least One in Six Stars Has an Earth-Sized Planet

"The quest for a twin Earth is heating up. Using NASA's Kepler spacecraft, astronomers are beginning to find Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars. A new analysis of Kepler data shows that about 17 percent of stars have an Earth-sized planet in an orbit closer than Mercury. Since the Milky Way has about 100 billion stars, there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there."

NASA'S Kepler Mission Discovers 461 New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler mission Monday announced the discovery of 461 new planet candidates. Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's "habitable zone," the region in the planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. Based on observations conducted from May 2009 to March 2011, the findings show a steady increase in the number of smaller-size planet candidates and the number of stars with more than one candidate."

Earth-Size Planets Are Common in Our Galaxy, University of California Berkeley

"An analysis of the first three years of data from NASA's Kepler mission, which already has discovered thousands of potential exoplanets, contains good news for those searching for habitable worlds outside our solar system. It shows that 17 percent of all Sun-like stars have planets one to two times the diameter of Earth orbiting close to their host stars, according to a team of astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa."

15 New Planets Hint at "Traffic Jam" of Moons in Habitable Zone

"Volunteers from the Planethunters.org website, part of the Oxford University-led Zooniverse project, have discovered 15 new planet candidates orbiting in the habitable zones of other stars. Added to the 19 similar planets already discovered in habitable zones, where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water, the new finds suggest that there may be a "traffic jam" of all kinds of strange worlds in regions that could potentially support life."

Planet Hunters. V. A Confirmed Jupiter-Size Planet in the Habitable Zone and 42 Planet Candidates from the Kepler Archive Data, astro-ph

James Webb Space Telescope: Actions Needed to Improve Cost Estimate and Oversight of Test and Integration

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has provided significantly more time and money to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) than previously planned and expressed high confidence in the project's new baselines. Its current cost estimate reflects some features of best practices for developing reliable and credible estimates."

Space telescope to get software fix, Nature

"Long-standing but little-publicized software problems, and insufficient memory in one of the detectors, have clouded the vision of the world's leading -ray telescope to the highest-energy -rays. The flaws do not seriously threaten the satellite's observations at low energies. But they have hampered studies at energies greater than 10 billion electronvolts (GeV), which could yield clues to dark matter and the powerful stellar explosions known as -ray bursts, says particle physicist Bill Atwood at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the Fermi team who helped to design the craft's instruments."

Doubt cast on Fermi's dark matter smoking gun, New Scientist

"The team first had to reprocess their data from the galactic centre to account for a glitch caused by a damaged instrument on the telescope. That revealed that the signal had shifted from 130 to 135 GeV, Albert told the Fourth International Fermi Symposium in Monterey, California, on 2 November. What's more, that signal had faded to statistical insignificance. "The feature's gotten a little smaller," she says. "It hasn't gone away completely, but we do not see it to be very significant. At this point, we have to cast doubt on this being a dark matter line."

Fermi Observations of Dwarf Galaxies Provide New Insights on Dark Matter

"Scientists working with data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have looked for signals from some of these hypothetical particles by zeroing in on 10 small, faint galaxies that orbit our own. Although no signals have been detected, a novel analysis technique applied to two years of data from the observatory's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has essentially eliminated these particle candidates for the first time."

Are Gen Xers Lost In Space?

How many Gen Xers know their cosmic address?

"Less than half of Generation X adults can identify our home in the universe, a spiral galaxy, according to a University of Michigan report. "Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill, but it is an important part of human knowledge about our universe and--to some extent--about ourselves," said Jon D. Miller, author of "The Generation X Report" and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research."

Earth-Mass Planet Found Orbiting Alpha Centauri B

"European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system -- the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012."

NASA Statement On Alpha Centauri Planet Discovery

"The following is a statement about the European Southern Observatory's latest exoplanet discovery from NASA's Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator, Dr. John Grunsfeld. "We congratulate the European Southern Observatory team for making this exciting new exoplanet discovery. For astronomers, the search for exoplanets helps us understand our place in the universe and determine whether Earth is unique in supporting life or if it is just one member of a large community of habitable worlds. NASA has several current and future missions that will continue in this search."

The telescopes that came in from the cold, Nature

"Some astronomers, however, are questioning whether the value of the free hardware-- each NRO telescope is worth at least US$250 million-- can compensate for the extra costs entailed in going from a 1.3-metre mission to a 2.4-metre mission, which will require a larger rocket and a larger camera. Although the WFIRST mission was expected to cost $1.5billion, one NASA estimate puts the NRO option at $1.75billion."

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earier post
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earier post

Voyager 1 achievements not unlike Magellan travels, moon landing, Huntsville Times

"The science is dazzling enough: the discoveries made and the measurements gauged by Voyager 1 as it hurtles toward the outer reaches of the Milky Way. But to Gary Zank, this is more than mere science."

"... What makes Voyager 1 unique, however, is that it is approaching the edge of the Milky Way. It's possible it could leave the solar system and travel into what Zank described as the "pristine" interstellar medium. In other words, to be completely free of the Milky Way and the sun's influence."

"... As for the future of Voyager 1, there is no consensus. Some scientists believe the tiny spacecraft is on the brink of breaking through the heliosphere where Voyager is currently traveling. Once clear of the heliosphere, Voyager 1 will be clear of the Milky Way."

"... Zank, however, said he believes that achievement is still five or six years away. Then a hydrogen wall barrier that has built up on the edge of the Milky Way must be cleared - something that, Zank estimates, won't happen until at least 2022 and possibly not until 2027."

"... Oh, definitely, I'll be very happy to be wrong," Zank said of the opportunity to get that pristine view beyond the Milky Way. "It will also mean I've got a lot of thinking to do about why I went wrong. But that's another good project to work on at that point."

Keith's note: Huh? The Huntsville Times thinks Voyager is approaching the edge of the Milky Way? They say this 5 times so they must think it is true.

Keith's update: The article has been fixed. This is what it originally said.

NASA's WISE Survey Uncovers Millions Of Black Holes

"Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found. These powerful galaxies that burn brightly with infrared light are nicknamed hot DOGs. "WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects," said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

NASA's Kepler Discovers Multiple Planets Orbiting a Pair of Stars

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. The system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Coming less than a year after the announcement of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, this discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star."

Building Blocks of Life Found Around Young Sun-like Star

"The astronomers found molecules of glycolaldehyde -- a simple form of sugar -- in the gas surrounding a young binary star, with similar mass to the Sun, called IRAS 16293-2422. Glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before, but this is the first time it has been found so near to a Sun-like star, at distances comparable to the distance of Uranus from the Sun in the Solar System. This discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation."

NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee Submits Report, NSF

"In 2011 NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) commenced a Portfolio Review process in order to review the entire portfolio of AST-supported facilities, programs and other activities. The goal of the review was to recommend to AST how support for existing facilities, programs, and activities should be prioritized and interleaved with new initiatives recommended by the National Academy of Sciences decadal surveys, within the limitations of realistic future budgets."

Report: Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges

Initial Public Statement From AUI and NRAO on the Report of the NSF's Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee, NRAO

"AUI and NRAO have made a preliminary examination of the report released today from the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee (PRC). Among the recommendations of that report are that the NSF's Green Bank Telescope and Very Long Baseline Array be fully divested from the NSF Astronomy Division's portfolio of research facilities in the next five years, with no further funding from the Astronomy Division. AUI and NRAO recognize and acknowledge the need to retire obsolete facilities to make way for the state-of-the-art. However, both the GBT and the VLBA are the state-of-the-art, and have crucial capabilities that cannot be provided by other facilities. Separately the two telescopes provide unparalleled scientific access to the universe. When their information is combined, the instruments provide the highest sensitivity and resolution available for any astronomical instrument in the world."

Dark Galaxies of Early Universe Spotted for The First Time, ESO

"For the first time, dark galaxies -- an early phase of galaxy formation, predicted by theory but unobserved until now -- may have been spotted. These objects are essentially gas-rich galaxies without stars. Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, an international team thinks they have detected these elusive objects by observing them glowing as they are illuminated by a quasar."

B612 Foundation to Announce First Privately Funded Deep Space Mission

"Announcement: On June 28, 2012, the B612 Foundation will announce its plans to build, operate and launch the world's first privately funded deep space mission-a space telescope to be placed in orbit around the Sun. We will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system showing the current and future locations and trajectories of Earth-crossing asteroids, paving the way to protect the Earth from future impacts and opening up the Solar System to future exploration."

NASA's Stubby Hubbles and Fumbled PR

"Moore said that the hardware had been "declassified" so that NASA could use it. So, I asked, since it was "declassified", what the names of these telescopes were and if we could have photos of the hardware. Moore declined to provide the names of the telescopes - or of anything NRO was providing, said that we could not have photos (because things were classified), and that we should go talk to the NRO's public relations office. For starters, telling someone to talk to the NRO public affairs office is like suggesting that I find the nearest brick wall to talk to. What had me a bit baffled was why NASA could not provide photos of declassified hardware - suggesting that it was not really declassified at all. So which is it - declassified or not?"

Keith's note: But wait. This image was posted on MSNBC captioned "A redacted photo shows one of the telescopes transferred from the National Reconnaissance Office to NASA." and the source is "A. Dressler via National Academies". NASA refuses to issue images to the media but they give the same imagery to the NAS and they release it to the media? But NASA can't?

Keith's update: J.D. Harrington at NASA PAO tells me "I'm told that this is an old picture of the Hubble Space Telescope in its ground handling fixture being moved in the clean room during integrated testing and is not related toany classified hardware. It was included by the author of the CAA presentation yesterday to provide some levity to his somewhat dry science discussion." Dressler was on the media telecon yesterday when NASA refused to provide photos. So.... a senior representative of the National Academies of Science (Dressler) is issuing photos that they either claim are authentic and/or know are not authentic - and do so after hearing that NASA cannot/will not release them.

NASA is holding a semi-stealth media telecon - but only for selected media - and I got 13 minutes advanced notice. Alas, NASA claims that they are not holding "media telecons" about the NRO telescopes and they tell this to media during a "media telecon". Goofy.

NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy, Washington Post

"The U.S. government's secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens. They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics."

NASA Lends Galaxy Evolution Explorer to Caltech

"NASA is lending the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, where the spacecraft will continue its exploration of the cosmos. In a first-of-a-kind move for NASA, a Space Act Agreement was signed May 14 so the university soon can resume spacecraft operations and data management for the mission using private funds."

Keith's note: Wow. Is NASA going to adopt this approach for the reuse of other spacecraft? This could be very interesting.

Wanted: Meteor Imagery

NASA Asks Public to Provide Videos and Photos of Meteor (with photos of fresh finds)

"NASA and the SETI Institute are asking the public for more information to help find amateur photos and video footage of the daylight meteor that illuminated the sky over the Sierra Nevada mountains and created sonic booms that were heard over a wide area at 7:51 a.m. PDT Sunday, April 22, 2012."

U.S. Astronomers Make Case for Science on Capitol Hill

"Fifteen members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are traveling to Washington, DC, April 24-25 to thank Congress for recent appropriations in the fiscal year 2013 spending bill and to express the need for continued federal funding of research and development (R&D) programs, which are critically important to American economic growth."

NASA Astrophysics Urged To Slim Down, Aviation Week

"The SRC strongly urges the HST to consider all possible avenues, vigorously pursuing ways to accelerate cost reductions without compromising mission safety even if some science is not enabled," the panel cautioned the Hubble team in the April 4 report that included the Kepler extension recommendation. "To keep HST operating while maintaining the overall balance of NASA's astrophysics program, it will be necessary to seek further cost reductions, even at the expense of some observing efficiency."

NASA Extends Kepler, Spitzer, Planck Missions

"NASA is extending three missions affiliated with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. -- Kepler, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the U.S. portion of the European Space Agency's Planck mission -- as a result of the 2012 Senior Review of Astrophysics Missions. The 2012 NASA Senior Review report, which includes these three missions and six others also being extended, is available at: https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2012-senior-review."

Space Astronomy Archive and Supernova Are Named for Senator Barbara Mikulski

"One of the world's largest astronomy archives, containing a treasure trove of information about myriad stars, planets, and galaxies, has been named in honor of the United States Senator from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski. ... In addition, an exploding star that the Hubble Space Telescope spotted on Jan. 25, 2012, has been named Supernova Mikulski by Nobel Laureate Adam Riess and the supernova search team with which he is currently working. The supernova, which lies 7.4 billion light-years away, is the titanic detonation of a star more than eight times our Sun's mass."

Keith's note: This has to be one of the most shameless acts of kissing up to a congressional benefactor in recent years. Anything that Sen. Mikuski did in her job involved taxpayer dollars and she often favored projects in her own state at the expense of equally meritorious projects located in other states. I wonder if the STScI folks bothered to tell Sen. Mikulski that they can't actually name stars after anyone. Under the archaic way that astronomers name objects and features, only the IAU can name things. Also, it would seem, according to IAU's rules, that there is no process for naming a supernova after a person i.e. "Supernovae are named for their year of occurrance and an uppercase letter, e.g., "SN 1987A". If the alphabet is exhausted, double lower case naming is used: [Year] aa .. az, ba .. bz, etc; e.g., "SN 1997bs"." And if IAU does allow this name to become official they too become a party to this blatant act of political payback and simply undermine what the credibility that their naming rules have.

NASA Science Chief Statement on Naming of Space Telescope Science Institute's Astronomical Database for Senator Mikulski

"The Space Telescope Science Institute's decision to name its database for Senator Mikulski is an honor very much deserved. She is a tremendous advocate and supporter for science, NASA and the astrophysics community."

Keith's update: (Sigh) now NASA itself has gotten in on the official political pandering as well. Maybe we should name JSC's Mission Control Center the "Kay Bailey Hutchison Mission Control Center" and the VAB the "Bill Nelson Big Rocket Barn". I wonder how many hours were charged at NASA and STScI to concocting and celebrating this whole activity. I guess there is a side benefit to this. The next time JWST goes over budget Sen. Mikulski is certain to support another infusion of cash.

News Embargo Inconsistencies

NASA Discovers First Earth-size Planets Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun."

First Earth-sized Planets Found, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The paper describing the finding will be published in the journal Nature."

Keith's 20 Dec note: How cool. Yet NASA PAO only offers less than 24 hours advanced notice about this announcement and the event is scheduled while people are on vacation or holiday shopping? Yes, I know all about Nature magazine's archaic and self-imposed rules regarding publication, etc. NASA is apparently powerless to challenge the way that external publications release news of its own discoveries. Why NASA cannot simply dictate TO these publications how NASA wishes announce its own taxpayer-funded discoveries simply baffles me. These journals ought to be competing with one another to publish astonishing news like this - not telling NASA if/when it can. These "first" announcements only happen once. I simply do not understand why NASA rushes to put out half-baked news and then misses a chance to fully promote and explain astonishing gems such as this news.

US asks scientific journals to censor bird flu studies, Guardian

"The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans. The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health."

Keith's 21 Dec update: Hmm, the government asks Science and Nature to restrict the publishing of certain information and they object. Yet they refuse to allow NASA to discuss its own research in advance of a publication embargo. These journals want to have it both ways.

Of course, the odd thing about this Kepler story is that Nature story embargoes do not normally lift several days in advance of publication - this week's issue comes out on 22 December. If NASA and Nature stuck to their usual process the press conference would have been held after 1:00 pm EST today. What's up with that?

Word has it that NASA got wind of a paper - in the same edition of Nature "A compact system of small planets around a former red-giant star" which says "Here we report the presence of two nearly Earth-sized bodies orbiting the post-red-giant, hot B subdwarf star KIC 05807616 ... KIC 05807616 (also known as KPD 194314058) is a seemingly isolated pulsating hot B subdwarf (sdB) star that has been monitored by the Kepler satellite primarily for the study of its oscillations". They used Kepler archival data and it would seem that NASA did not want to have someone else scoop them on finding the first Earth-sized planets without NASA making the announcement.

So, Kepler has found two more Earth-sized extrasolar planets. But not a peep from NASA.

Discovery of two Earth-size planets raises questions about the evolution of stars, University of Montreal

"While analyzing the data obtained with the NASA Kepler mission ..."

Astronomers, Iowa State's Kawler Discover Planets That Survived Their Star's Expansion, Iowa State

"Kawaler said NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is a tremendous tool for studying stars and planets. So much so, astronomers are working to extend the Kepler mission another four years, from 2012 into 2016."

Astronomers Discover Deep-Fried Planets, University of Arizona

"... the team used data obtained from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope for this study."

Panel Discussion: U.S. Leadership in Astronomy: Space Telescopes Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

"Featuring: Eric Smith, NASA Headquarters, Dr. John Grunsfeld, Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Dr. Meg Urry, Yale University, and Pam Whitney, House Committee on Science & Technology (invited)."

House Science, Space & Tech Committee Hearing - Assessing the James Webb Space Telescope

"Witnesses:
- [Statement] Rick Howard, Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, NASA,
- [Statement] Roger Blandford, Professor of Physics, Stanford University,
- [Statement] Garth Illingworth, Professor & Astronomer, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz,
- [Statement] Jeffrey D. Grant, Sector Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Division, Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems"

NASA's Kepler Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-Like Star

"NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets."

Kepler-22b: A 2.4 Earth-radius Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Sun-like Star

"A search of the time-series photometry from NASA's Kepler spacecraft reveals a transiting planet candidate orbiting the 11th magnitude G5 dwarf KIC 10593626 with a period of 290 days. The characteristics of the host star are well constrained by high-resolution spectroscopy combined with an asteroseismic analysis of the Kepler photometry, leading to an estimated mass and radius of 0.970 +/- 0.060 MSun and 0.979 +/- 0.020 RSun. The depth of 492 +/- 10ppm for the three observed transits yields a radius of 2.38 +/- 0.13 REarth for the planet."

Budget pressures squeeze the dreams of Mars explorers, Washington Post

"At a White House meeting during the last week of October, administration officials "were clearly not very keen on signing up" for unmanned Mars missions in 2016 and 2018, said Daniel Britt, who attended the meeting as head of the planetary science division of the American Astronomical Society. ... White House officials said no decision to kill the Mars program has been made. The administration is deliberating how to mete out NASA's uncertain budget, said Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."

NASA Funding Added to Must-pass Minibus, Space News

"NASA funding is among the differences House and Senate conferees must resolve before the two chambers can give final approval to the so-called minibus the week of Nov. 14. House appropriators voted this summer to fund NASA at $16.8 billion -- about $1.6 billion below this year's level -- and recommended canceling the overbudget James Webb Space Telescope. The Senate bill, in contrast, would fund NASA at $17.9 billion and include additional money for Webb."

Bolden's Plan for Webb

NASA head visits Baltimore to show off Webb telescope

"Bolden said Friday he does not intend to cut any single program to make sure that Webb proceeds as planned. Instead, NASA is working with the White House to provide Wolf and his subcommittee with a list of cuts across the agency, he said. "We didn't want to reward Webb by killing a program that was doing well," said Bolden, who became the head the agency about two years ago. The cuts would be proposed from both the institutional and science sectors of NASA, he said."

NASA Money Sponge Update

Editorial: Identify JWST's Bill Payers, editorial, Space News

"... the Space Launch System, which per the House and Senate spending bills is slated to receive nearly $2 billion next year, is an appropriate bill payer for JWST. Given that NASA has no established exploration destination requiring the heavy-lift rocket on the schedule mandated by Congress, stretching out its development to help fund an observatory of undeniable scientific merit -- its substantial problems notwithstanding -- is a fair trade."

JWST and SLS: Dueling Giant Money Sponges, earlier post

"So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs. It will also pit these money sponges' ever-growing chronic need for dollars against the other's similar insatiable appetite. And all of this will happen while the Federal budget is almost certainly going to be constrained - regardless of who wins the 2012 election. So, will someone explain to me how NASA is going to build and launch both JWST and SLS and have money left over to do all of the other things that it is both chartered to do - and directed to do - by Congress?"

3 U.S.-born scientists win physics Nobel for revealing universe's expansion is getting faster, Washington Post

"Three U.S.-born scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for overturning a fundamental assumption in their field by showing that the expansion of the universe is constantly accelerating. ... Riess, 41, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland."

Keith's note: Nothing from NASA PAO. NASA funds the Space Telescope Science Institute. All three have used Hubble and other NASA resources.

Found Tatooine, We Have

From Star Wars to Science Fact: Tatooine-like Planet Discovered, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"Although cold and gaseous rather than a desert world, the newfound planet Kepler-16b is still the closest astronomers have come to discovering Luke Skywalker's home world of Tatooine. Like Tatooine, Kepler-16b enjoys a double sunset as it circles a pair of stars approximately 200 light-years from Earth. It's not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy."

Tatooine-Like Planet Discovered, Carnegie Institution for Science

"A planet with two suns may be a familiar sight to fans of the "Star Wars" film series, but not, until now, to scientists. A team of researchers, including Carnegie's Alan Boss, has discovered a planet that orbits around a pair of stars. Their remarkable findings will be published Sept. 16 in Science."

NASA's Kepler Discovery Confirms First Planet Orbiting Two Stars

"Unlike Star Wars' Tatooine, the planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Previous research has hinted at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Kepler detected such a planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it."

FY2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Mark - NASA Excerpt

* The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $17.9 billion, a reduction of $509 million or 2.8 percent from the FY2011 enacted level.

* The bill preserves NASA portfolio balanced among science, aeronautics, technology and human space flight investments, including the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the heavy lift Space Launch System, and commercial crew development.

* The bill provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Webb telescope gets rescued in the Senate, Nature

"At the subcommittee meeting today, the Senator said the beleaguered mission would get $530 million in 2012 -- much more than the $374 million that had been asked for in the president's budget request. But the agency as a whole would get $17.9 billion -- half a billion less than it received in 2011.'"

Hope, With 'Stringent' Orders, for NASA's Webb Telescope

"In remarks delivered at the markup today, Mikulski noted that although her panel wanted to continue funding for the telescope, it also wanted NASA to be more accountable in executing the project. "We have added stringent language, limiting development costs" and insisted on "a report from NASA senior management, ensuring that the NASA has gotten its act together in managing the telescope," she said."

Keith's note: I have to wonder why yet another report from the same people who have botched JWST managment is going to be any more accurate or reliable than what they have reported or said thus far. Oh yes - adding $156 million to one project (JWST) while cutting NASA's top line by $500 million is just going to exacerbate trench warfare between NASA's space and planetary science community. Do the math: NASA overall gets $500 million less than 2011 and yet JWST gets more than the President asked for. NASA has to deal with that $500 million cut plus the additional $156 million that JWST has sucked up out of NASA's reduced budget i.e. NASA has $656 million less to work with - according to the Senate - so far. Stay tuned.

Supernova Homer?

New Supernova Remnant Lights Up

"Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers are witnessing the unprecedented transition of a supernova to a supernova remnant, where light from an exploding star in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, reached Earth in February 1987."

Keith's note: Is it just me? Didn't the Simpsons become uber popular around the same time?

AAS Members Decadal Priorities and Fiscal Realities Informational Email 2011-10

"NASA and NSF receive input from many formal agency, interagency, and National Academies advisory committees about how to allocate their budgets and how to adjust to changing circumstances while trying to meet survey recommendations as best they can. The AAS does not support any one Division or astronomical discipline above others, or to the detriment of others. The decadal reports represent a community consensus of the most compelling questions, priorities, missions, projects, and activities in each discipline. It is not the purview of the AAS to second-guess the surveys or to re-order priorities or to select from among them. Our role is to support all of our disciplines. As we face the new economic climate, it might be worth recalling Abraham Lincoln's words: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

James Webb Space Telescope Threatens Planetary Science (with signatures), Planetary Exploration Newsletter

"JWST has, however, been a priority in the NRC Astrophysics Decadal Surveys. When JWST was ranked as the top major initiative for NASA astrophysics in the 2001 NRC Astronomy Decadal Survey, it was estimated to cost $1B and launch by 2011. NASA has now spent $3.5B on JWST and it is now projected to cost a minimum of $8.7B for a launch no earlier than late 2018. As a result, JWST's cost increases have outstripped the resources of the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Astrophysics Division, and NASA leadership has now declared JWST an "agency priority." Resources of other NASA programs, including the Agency's Planetary Sciences Division within the Science Mission Directorate, are now threatened to cover current and future JWST cost overruns."

Letter From American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Regarding NASA James Webb Space Telescope Costs

"The AAS should continue to be a strong advocate of the JWST, while being mindful of the concerns of all its divisions. I know from your activities in support of the various decadal surveys that all of the divisions are well represented by the society. However, the cost of the JWST threatens to swamp us all and the AAS should be careful, as a multi-disciplinary organization, to balance the various concerns of each of its constituents and to work towards a solution that does not promote one division's interests at the expense of another's. The SPD is anxious to work together with all of our AAS colleagues to find an effective and equitable way forward."

Earlier posts about James Webb Space Telescope Issues

Keith's update: Acccording to Kevin Marvel at the AAS "I think that is an irresponsible position to take and believe that you should reveal the source of the letter, who is likely conflicted due to financial ties to future heliophysics missions. The source is not AAS." I don't get it. The letter is on AAS SPD letterhead from the head of a AAS division. See for yourself: Download the original letter on AAS SPD letterhead. And this is not from an individual, Kevin - it is from a committee whose membership was elected by the AAS SPD membership. As for this Marvel's absurd suggestion that there is a conflict of interest with regard to the author of this letter, this is a classic case of pot-kettle-black. Gee, as if there are no members of the AAS who have a vested interest in seeing JWST funded. This is just blatant, transparent hypocrisy.

Keith's further update: Kevin Marvel just sent this statement:

"The American Astronomical Society represents more than 7500 astronomers, planetary scientists, heliophysicists and others connected to the research endeavor broadly labeled as 'astronomy'. To best represent the interests of these specialized fields, the Society grants its Divisions the ability to print their own letterhead. SpaceRef earlier today (September 8, 2011) posted a letter, which was a communication from the leadership of the Solar Physics Division to the leadership of the Society. SpaceRef claims the source of the letter is the Society in its online posting. It is correct that the Society's name is printed on the letterhead, but it is also true that the letter was not forwarded to SpaceRef from any member of the AAS leadership who were the recipients of the letter. It is difficult to understand how the 'source' of a letter could be the organization listed as the recipient of the letter. The authorship of the letter rests firmly with the Solar Physics Division of the organization. The source who provided the letter to SpaceRef remains unidentified. The Society and its Divisions will continue to work actively to support the Decadal Priorities for all of our Divisions and all of our members."

This gets goofier by the minute. It matters not whether AAS sent this to NASA Watch/SpaceRef formally or not, the source is the AAS. It would seem that AAS allows people to use its letterhead who (apparently) do not represent the AAS (at least when they say things that diverge from the official AAS position that is). But wait - this is from the chair of the AAS SPD - part of the AAS. I am confused. So is the AAS.

There are deep and growing divisions within the AAS - and the space/planetary science community - with regard to JWST and Kevin Marvel is obviously afraid to admit this. I'll bet that this letter - written by the Chair of the AAS SPD to the AAS will never make it onto the AAS website with all the glowing pro-Webb commentary.

NASA Money Sponge Update

NASA's smaller programs could be at risk, Orlando Sentinel

"The trend has alarmed astronomers and others, who are concerned that less-visible projects -- such as robotic Mars missions and various space probes -- will be sacrificed. "So, we have one giant money sponge (JWST) already sucking up dollars with yet another money sponge (SLS) on the drawing board. Since the money simply is not there to do either project to begin with, trying to do both of them together will devour funds from smaller NASA programs," wrote Keith Cowing in a recent post on his influential blog NASA Watch."

JWST and SLS: Dueling Giant Money Sponges, earlier post

NASA to share telescope cost, Nature

"The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is perilously overbudget and under threat of cancellation, but Nature has learned that it may be offered a financial lifeline. The flagship observatory is currently funded entirely through NASA's science division; now NASA is requesting that more than US$1 billion in extra costs be shared 50:50 with the rest of the agency. The request reflects administrator Charles Bolden's view, expressed earlier this month, that the telescope is a priority not only for the science programme, but for the entire agency. NASA expects that the total cost of getting the 6.5-metre telescope to the launch pad by 2018 will be about $8 billion, around $1.5 billion more and three years later than an independent panel predicted in November 2010."

Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists, The Guardian

"Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth's atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control - and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain. This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by scientists at Nasa and Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future. Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Nasa's Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity "prepare for actual contact".

Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis, (full paper) Acta Astronautica, 2011 via arXiv.org (PDF)

The Drudge Report Drives More Top News Traffic than Twitter or Facebook, Study Finds, PBS NewsHour

Keith's 18 Aug 10 pm EDT note: (Sigh) This article is prominently featured on the Drudge Report with the title of "NASA REPORT: Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilizations...". This is not a "NASA report". Nor does the Guardian article accurately describe the paper's content and conclusions. Alas, NASA will probably just allow this latest misperception/mischaracterization to linger (along with all the other urban myths, faulty analyses, etc) with no response - at least none until it is too late to really make any difference. Oh yes, Drudge Report got 32,697,733 visits in the past 24 hours.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman note: Some important points of clarification, PaleBlueBlog

"But I do admit to making a horrible mistake. It was an honest one, and anaiveone... but it was a mistake nonetheless. I should not have listed my affiliation as "NASA Headquarters." I did so because that is my current academic affiliation. But when I did so I did not realize the full implications that has. I'm deeply sorry for that, but it was a mistake born our of carelessness and inexperience and nothing more. I will do what I can to rectify this, including distributing this post to the Guardian, Drudge, and NASA Watch. Please help me spread this post to the other places you may see the article inaccurately attributed to NASA."

Keith's 19 Aug 6:50 am EDT update: Personally I think it is an interesting paper and well worth the effort on the part of the authors. My issue is with the way that the agency lets misperceptions made by news aggretators and UK tabloids linger in front of millions of people, the media, decision makers, without making any attempt to set the record straight. NASA has an online line presence of some considerable reach (see "Choir Practice With Bullhorns at NASA") - why not use that to counter these erroneous online claims? Hats off to Shawn Domagal-Goldman for being open and honest and attempting to do so. Gee, maybe PAO could help a little too? If done properly this could also serve as an opportunity for NASA to talk about a topic that a lot of people find interesting - and maybe educate and excite a few people along the way. This is an opportunity to teach and inform, not one to hide and wait for things to blow over. And maybe NASA could have a little fun with it too - if it can stage photo ops with Chris Ferguson and Elmo (a TV show puppet)...

Alas, the inevitable evil ET feeding frenzy via "NASA report" misinformation is now spreading - CNET, International Business Times, the Spokane Examiner, Daily Mail, and even Discovery News simply repeat the very same mistakes that the Guardian made (with the Guardian as their source) in their original article with out doing any fact checking themselves. This is NOT a NASA report, folks. Did anyone actually contact the authors?

Keith's 19 Aug 8:09 am EDT update: @NASA just twittered: Yes, @drudge & @guardiannews are mistaken about an "alien" report. It's not NASA research. Ask the report's author http://go.nasa.gov/nRI8Lf

Keith's 19 Aug 8:29 am EDT update: The Guardian has quietly (without admitting any error on its part) modified its article to read "warns a report."

SETI Needs Your Help to Resume Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Keith's note 22 June 2011: "We are discovering more Earth-like planets every day, so now is more critical than ever to look for extraterrestrial life. A contribution from you, today, will fund telescope scans for signs of intelligence beyond our solar system. Please donate and help us find intelligent life out there. At the SETI Institute, we've made a name for ourselves exploring space. But it's our community here on Earth--passionate, science-minded and creative--that truly defines us. That's why we're launching SETIstars, an initiative to connect us more closely than ever with the constellation of visionaries and supporters that make our work possible."

Keith's note 4 August 2011: " 2181 STARS - $202,299 OUT OF $200,000 - 101%"

Schiff Amendment to Provide FY 2012 Funding for James Webb Space Telescope Rejected

"The full House Appropriations Committee had been meeting for almost 3 1/2 hours yesterday when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) rose to offer an amendment to provide $200 million for the James Webb Space Telescope in the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill. A vote was pending on the House floor, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) was ready to take a final vote to pass the bill. After brief comments by Schiff and Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) a voice vote was called, and the amendment was rejected. Schiff's amendment would have moved $200 million from NASA's Cross Agency Support budget, for which the bill allocated approximately $3 billion. This amendment was one of several that sought to transfer money from this budget category to other programs. All were rejected."

American Astronomical Society Statement on Proposed Cancellation of Webb Space Telescope

"The American Astronomical Society calls upon all members of Congress to support JWST to its completion and to provide strong oversight on the path to this goal. Too many taxpayer dollars have already been spent to cancel the mission now; its benefits far outweigh the remaining costs. We must see the mission through. We are a great nation and we do great things. JWST represents our highest aspirations and will be one of our most significant accomplishments."

AURA Reaction to Proposed Cancellation of JWST, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

"In commenting on the proposed cancellation, Dr. William S. Smith, President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said "Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA's science program. JWST is NASA's premier science facility, unsurpassed by any other telescope now or in the future."

Keith's note: Hmm ... no mention of the large JWST contract that AURA has with Space Telescope Science Institute is made in this AURA statement ...

American Astronomical Society Statement on the James Webb Space Telescope

"The proposal released on July 6 by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope would waste more taxpayer dollars than it saves while simultaneously undercutting the critical effort to utilize American engineering and ingenuity to expand human knowledge. Such a proposal threatens American leadership in the fields of astrophysics and advanced space technology while likely eliminating hundreds, if not thousands, of high-tech jobs. Additionally, this proposal comes before the completion of a revised construction plan and budget for a launch of JWST by 2018. The United States position as the leader in astronomy, space science, and spaceflight is directly threatened by this proposal."

Keith's note: According to a tweet by Brian Berger at Space News: "House CJS mark also "terminates funding for [JWST] , which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management".

Keith's 19 May note: Industry sources report that Northrop Grumman will begin to layoff personnel working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) next month for budgetary and scheduling reasons. JWST was originally supposed to have been launched in 2007. This launch date has officially slipped to no earlier than 2017-2018. According to sources, NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese told a group of aerospace executives this week that running JWST at a rate of $375 million a year would result in a launch date of 2022-2024.

The cost of JWST has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to $4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion. In other words the cost increase sucks $6 billion out of NASA's budget - money that would have otherwise gone to other space science projects.

If this continues, universities are going to see funds for non-JWST projects dry up. Contractors who might have had a chance to bid on other projects will now be forced to change their line of business to pursue other types of projects. The result of all of this will be loss of expertise in the work force in academia, the private sector - and at NASA.

NASA PAO has responded to NASA Watch stating: "The statement attributed to Chris Scolese is inaccurate. NASA is currently working with contractors and international partners to assess the budget and schedule and develop a sustainable path forward for the JWST program that is based on a realistic cost and schedule assessment. NASA is completing the assessments and developing a new baseline. NASA will complete its new baseline cost and schedule assessment for JWST in the summer of 2011. This information will be used in formulation of the FY 2013 budget request. A decision on JWST's launch date is contingent upon the outcome of these activities."

Keith's 19 May 4:30 pm update: Note that NASA does not dispute the fact that Scolese mentioned that the annual $375 million spending rate would result in a slip to 2022-2024 - rather, that they are studying things ... stay tuned.

Keith's 19 May 7:15 pm update: According to Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains "We are not planning a Webb layoff in June".

NASA Watch stands by its sources.

Keith's 31 May note: According to a WARN Act filing, Northrop Grumman has notified the State of California that as many as 870 jobs could be eliminated in the next few months. This does not mean that all 870 jobs will be eliminated however. Some are in divisions that would have no possible involvement with JWST. Others might have JWST connections. When I asked Northrop Grumman's spokesman Lon Rains to characterize these layoffs, asking if there could be some JWST employees in the mix, he said "possibly". He then went on to say that these layoffs were being made across the company and that they had to do with internal corporate reorganization - and that no JWST jobs were being lost due to any direction from NASA. NASA Watch sources report that employees working on JWST at Northrop Grumman are indeed being laid off - however the total number is not known.

Lights In The Sky

Early Morning Skywatching and Teaching Satellite Concepts to Sherpas

"I got up early today to see the ISS and Endeavour fly over my house. Its always cool to see them flying in formation like this. This morning's viewing was at 4:48 am low in the North, so I was not sure I'd see things due to the brightening sky. As the two vehicles approached from due West I could only make out one fast moving light. But as the viewing geometry improved I was rewarded with two almost equally bright lights moving in clear association with one another - albeit briefly. Then the trees blocked my view. (My graphic is an attempt to draw what I saw.)

While I was waiting there for the flyby I thought back the film "The Right Stuff" where a group of wise aborigines ponders the night sky while sparks fly up from a fire. I wondered what sort of cosmology a modern stone age tribe in Borneo isolated from the rest of the world would think of all these lights in the sky moving in ways our ancestors would never have seen. Imagine what sort of cosmology they might have created to explain such lights."

Note: This video was sent to me by a reader after they read my original article: "Here's what you may have seen this morning - the Shuttle Endeavour leads the ISS, at about 4:50am (EDT) this morning. This handheld video was taken with my Canon S5-IS, with a maximum 12X optical zoom. It may not be "broadcast quality" but is presented as a tribute to the last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.- Michael Kowalchuk Ferdinand, IN"

Kepler's Astounding Haul of Multiplanet Systems, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"In particular, the Kepler systems with multiple planets are much flatter than our solar system. They have to be for Kepler to spot them. Kepler watches for a planet to cross in front of its star, blocking a tiny fraction of the star's light. By measuring how much the star dims during such a transit, astronomers can calculate the planet's size, and by observing the time between successive events they can derive the orbital period -- how long it takes the planet to revolve around its star."

Spitzer and Kepler Confirm New Extrasolar Planet, NASA

"A new planetary member of the Kepler-10 solar system was announced today. Using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, members of the Kepler science team confirmed a new planet, dubbed Kepler-10c."

Image of a Psychedelic Stellar Nursery

"An all-time favorite of skywatchers on both hemispheres, the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8 or M8) is among the most striking examples of a stellar nursery in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. Visible in small telescopes and binoculars its fuzzy glow reveals the type of chaotic environment where new stars are born."

Einstein Was Right

NASA's Gravity Probe B Confirms Two Einstein Space-Time Theories

"NASA's Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission has confirmed two key predictions derived from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which the spacecraft was designed to test. The experiment, launched in 2004, used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the hypothesized geodetic effect, the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, the amount a spinning object pulls space and time with it as it rotates."

The Occurrence Rate of Earth Analog Planets Orbiting Sunlike Stars, NASA JPL via arXiv.org

"Kepler is a space telescope that searches Sun-like stars for planets. Its major goal is to determine nEarth, the fraction of Sunlike stars that have planets like Earth. When a planet 'transits' or moves in front of a star, Kepler can measure the concomitant dimming of the starlight. From analysis of the first four months of those measurements for over 150,000 stars, Kepler's science team has determined sizes, surface temperatures, orbit sizes and periods for over a thousand new planet candidates. Here, we show that 1.4% to 2.7% of stars like the Sun are expected to have Earth analog planets, based on the Kepler data release of Feb 2011."

NASA OIG: NASA's Use of Recovery Act Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope Project

"Following multiple schedule delays and substantial cost growth, in 2009 the JWST Project received $75 million in Recovery Act funding intended to sustain the Project's workforce at a consistent level and maintain the baseline schedule for key development activities. We found that in using these funds, the JWST Project adequately addressed the requirements of the Recovery Act and related OMB guidance and delivered measureable outcomes consistent with Agency program and project plans and the goals of the Act. Specifically, we found that the $75 million in Recovery Act funds enabled 454 jobs to be retained on the JWST Project in the fourth quarter of FY 2009 and 149 jobs in the first quarter of FY 2010."

20-Million Milestone for 100-Year Citizen Science Project

"A citizen science project running for over 100 years reached a key milestone this month when an amateur astronomer contributed the 20 millionth observation of a variable star on February 19, 2011. A variable star changes in brightness over time. Records of these changes can be used to uncover the astrophysical processes within evolving star systems. With a database going back over a century, variable star astronomers have access to a data source unparalleled in astronomy."

Students Discover A Pulsar

Students Excited by Stellar Discovery , NRAO

"In the constellation of Ophiuchus, above the disk of our Milky Way Galaxy, there lurks a stellar corpse spinning 30 times per second -- an exotic star known as a radio pulsar. This object was unknown until it was discovered last week by three high school students. These students are part of the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) project, run by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, WV, and West Virginia University (WVU)."

What is a Galaxy? Cast Your Vote Here

"Our aim here is to promote further discussion of how to define a galaxy and, in particular, what separates it from a star cluster. Like most previous definitions, we adopt the requirement of a gravitationally bound stellar system as a minimum ... we give our favoured criteria, and in the spirit of a 'collective wisdom', invite readers to vote on their preferred definition of a galaxy via a dedicated website. ... In order to capture the thoughts of a wider audience about how to define a galaxy, we invite readers to vote. This 'collective wisdom' or 'crowd-sourcing' will be captured in an online poll. The poll allows one to choose the single best criterion or multiple criteria. Results of the poll will be reported from time to time at future astronomy conferences."

Hubble Zooms In on a Space Oddity

"One of the strangest space objects ever seen is being scrutinized by the penetrating vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. A mysterious, glowing, green blob of gas is floating in space near a spiral galaxy. Hubble uncovered delicate filaments of gas and a pocket of young star clusters in the giant object, which is the size of our Milky Way galaxy."

Kepler Mission Discovers its First Rocky Planet

"NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system. The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010."

Quest for Dark Energy May Fade to Black, NY Times

"An ambitious $1.6 billion spacecraft that would investigate the mysterious force that is apparently accelerating the expansion of the universe -- and search out planets around other stars, to boot -- might have to be postponed for a decade, NASA says, because of cost overruns and mismanagement on a separate project, the James Webb Space Telescope. The news has dismayed many American astronomers, who worry they will wind up playing second fiddle to their European counterparts in what they say is the deepest mystery in the universe."

Kepler Goes Into Safe Mode

"On Dec. 22, 2010, Kepler experienced a safe mode event. A safe mode is a self-protective measure that the spacecraft takes when something unexpected occurs. During safe mode, the spacecraft points the solar panels directly at the sun and begins to slowly rotate about a sun-aligned axis. This safe mode orientation provides the vehicle with the maximum power, and limits the buildup of momentum from the solar wind."

Lunar Eclipse Photo

Photo: Total Lunar Eclipse as Seen From Earth's Surface

"A total lunar eclipse is seen as the full moon is shadowed by the Earth on the arrival of the winter solstice, Tuesday, December 21, 2010 in Arlington, VA. The eclipse lasted about three hours and twenty-eight minutes. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into the Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red."

Announcement of Earlier Kepler Data Release--from June 2011 to 1 February 2011

"The Kepler project wishes to inform the community that it is moving the next data release date (originally planned for June 2011) forward to 1 February 2011. This data set (Quarter 2) is the first consisting of a complete 3 months of observations. It will contain light curves for approximately 165,000 stars (most of which are late-type Main Sequence stars) brighter than 16th magnitude in the Cygnus & Lyra constellations sampled at a 30-minute cadence. Three subsets of one-month each of [up to 512] stars were sampled at 1 min cadence. The shorter cadence data will be released on the same schedule."

Keith's note: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project started under NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Associate Administrator Ed Weiler. Virtually all of its chronic and unabated cost increases and schedule slips have occured under Weiler's watch either at NASA HQ or at NASA GSFC. When former SMD AA Alan Stern tried to bring the escalating costs of programs such as JWST and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) under control, in 2008, multiple NASA sources note that Chris Scoelese and Ed Weiler maneuvered to force Stern's resignation, in a classic NASA "shoot the messenger" move, with Weiler taking Stern's place within barely a week.

Meanwhile in a statement prepared for Bolden, it is evident that the agency is in complete denial when it comes to the severity of its escalating costs for government projects. Didn't the recent election sent a rather clear message from the electorate with regard to their dissatisfaction with out of control government spending? Add in the soaring overruns on MSL (another Weiler managerial fiasco) and National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) - a project managed for the agency by Chris Scolese, and you see three large fiscal black holes sucking away at all the other things the agency is supposed to be doing for science, and exploration.

Bolden's response? He wants Weiler and Scoelese to spend more time watching JWST. These two have presided over years of cost growth and schedule delays that have damaged multiple projects within SMD, and which now threaten to damage the Agency's reputation as a whole. Perhaps it is Weiler and Scoelese that need to be changed out ...

This latest cost increase/schedule delay happened throughout Charlie Bolden's entire tenure with both Scolese and Weiler overseeing this program at NASA HQ under Bolden's direct, daily management. Perhaps Gen. Bolden doesn't realize his connection to the collective mismanagement of these projects is itself becoming as clear as the vacuum of space ...

Keith's update: Word has it that there will be a press conference on Monday where some heads will roll as this mess is reorganized under Chris Scolese. Stay tuned.


NASA GSFC Internal Email: Center Director Announces Organizational Changes - JWST

"For the past 8 years, the JWST team has been led by Phil Sabelhaus, and in my view, no one could have been more effective leading this government, industry, and international team, especially in light of the enormous challenges and constraints. That said, there are times in the life-cycle of a project when change is beneficial, not only to the undertaking but also to the individuals involved. On JWST, that time is now. Effective today, I have named Bill Ochs to be the JWST Project Manager, and Phil will replace Bill as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission Project Manager."

Keith's update: No press conference - instead, just a quiet internal email to everyone at GSFC instead.

NASA GSFC Internal Email: Center Director Announces Organizational Changes - JWST

Kepler Observes Starquakes

NASA'S Kepler Spacecraft Takes Pulse Of Distant Stars

"An international cadre of scientists that used data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft announced Tuesday the detection of stellar oscillations, or "starquakes," that yield new insights about the size, age and evolution of stars. The results were presented at a news conference at Aarhus University in Denmark by scientists representing the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC). The team studied thousands of stars observed by Kepler, releasing what amounts to a roster of some of humanity's most well-characterized stars."

NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

"A team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone."

David M. Brown Planetarium Threatend With Closure - How you Can Help Prevent That

"In 2008 Arlington's planetarium was named for Captain David M. Brown. Captain Brown perished along with the rest of the crew when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry on February 1, 2003. The Friends of Arlington's David M. Brown Planetarium, Inc., was chartered on May 10, 2010, with a mission to save and sustain the David M. Brown Planetarium located in Arlington, Virginia. The 40-year-old educational institution and prestigious community asset was slated for closure on June 30, 2010, due to an inability to fund approximately $400,000 in one-time upgrades required by the Arlington Public Schools (APS) in order to retain the planetarium's instructional value as determined by the Superintendent of Schools."

International Year of Astronomy Reached Over 815 Million PeopleInternational Year of Astronomy 2009 reached Hundreds of Millions of People: Final Report Released, International Year of Astronomy 2009

"A 1300-page final report for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 was released today at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Lisbon, Portugal. The report shows that at least 815 million people in 148 countries participated in the world's largest science event in decades."

Cosmic Diary Anthology Released as a Free Book: Postcards from the Edge of the Universe, International Year of Astronomy 2009

"The book, Postcards from the Edge of the Universe, was launched today at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Lisbon, Portugal. A legacy of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project Cosmic Diary, the book features articles from astronomers around the world about the hottest astronomical topics of the moment."

Marc's note: You can download the book as ebook (PDF). It's 126 pages and has some great imagery and stories.

Webb Troubles Continue

Telescope promises new look at universe -- if NASA can get it into space, Orlando Sentinel

"When it works, and if it works, the James Webb Space Telescope could revolutionize astronomy by peering so deep into space that scientists soon could study the dawn of time. But construction of NASA's next big telescope has been so hurt by delays and cost overruns that even its staunchest champion in Congress reached a breaking point. In a letter dated June 29, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., all but ordered NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden to assemble a panel of outside experts to ensure the Webb project doesn't break its latest promise: a 2014 launch on a $5 billion budget. "We like the concept of the Webb, but I tell you, we're not in the overrun business," said Mikulski, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with oversight of NASA's budget."

Did Kepler Astronomer Realy Jump The Gun?, Ray Villard, Discovery News

"Science reporters were primed for this "shoot-ready-aim" response because they are growing impatient with one of NASA's most exciting and inspiring space observatory missions."

Keith's note: Gee Ray, I suppose you have data to back up this wacky claim. Could it be that the media reacted to what Sasselov actually said?

"The semantics over "Earth-like" and "Earth-sized" got confused in stories. Let's set the record straight. Kepler will never find an Earth-like planet. All Kepler is seeing is the shadows of planets as they pass in front of their star (transits). .... Once on the Internet, Sasselov's lecture was translated by reporters. Important ideas got misinterpreted in the translation. This was due in part to the fact that no press conference or substantive press release accompanied the June publication of some of the data."

Keith's note: These are after the fact attempts at spinning things on your part, Ray. Sasselov said "Earth-like". Its on his charts as well. So if these worlds are not "Earth-like" then it is the fault of the media and the general public for not knowing that "Earth-like" does not really mean "Earth-like"? If so, then why did Sasselov say "Earth-like" in the first place? As for your suggestion that media "translated" his comments (anyone can watch the video by the way) - they didn't translate them at all. Sasselov used the words "Earth-like" - and so did the media.

At no point in this article (or at the link to his other articles) does Ray Villard bother to mention that he works at the Space Telescope Science Institute as News Chief (villard@stsci.edu). STSCI operates NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and funds for Villard's salary come from ... NASA.

Kepler Mission - Errare HumanumEst, Natalie Batalha Kepler Co-Investigator, Beyond The Cradle

"Should NASA screen everything that the team plans to say in public? Should we, the Kepler team, screen everything our colleagues plan to say in public? I think that the best we can do is ask our colleagues for advice to make sure that we are understood. Perhaps that would have helped Dimitar. There are articles out there that say he shouldn't be allowed to speak in public. Yes, you heard me correctly -- that he shouldn't be allowed to speak. Rubbish. I can only say that I will take this PR blunder any day of the week over a work environment that does not give me academic freedom to speak within the reasonable agreements that I have with my colleagues. Any day."

Keith's note: Let me be clear, does Ditimar Sasselov have the right to speak his mind in public about his research? Of course he does. Does Sasselov have a professional responsibility as the Co-Investigator on an enormously expensive, taxpayer-funded NASA mission to get his facts straight before he speaks? Of course he does. Does he (and the rest of his team) need to be internally and externally consistent when it comes to the rationale for what they do or do not want to release, how they release it, and where they release it? Of course they do.

Perhaps most importantly, do the people who are chosen to speak publicly (and those who decide to speak publicly on their own) about these enormously important research projects need to understand how to communicate their jargon-filled, complex ideas to the public at large? Of course they do. Bad communication is often worse than no communication at all.

Millions of people stopped what they were doing to read these stories about "Earth-like planets" circling other suns. Such words have meaning. 99.999% of humans don't dwell on the nature of planetary cores and the other excuses offered in support of the use of the term "Earth-like" in this lecture. We live on Earth. This guy said there are worlds out there "like Earth". Lots of them. When most people hear the words "Earth-like" they look out the window at Earth. They don't run to grab a textbook or Google some planetary geology website.

This is paradigm shifting stuff. Its about confirmation of centuries of speculation and dreaming as to the nature of our world's uniqueness and/or commonness with regard to the universe around us. Now the Kepler team is fumbling its way through clarification of what was said and was not said, implied and miscommunicated.

Instead of channeling the eventual (and apparently inevitable if the statistics are to be believed) incredible news in a way that could really show the world what is waiting out there for us, back peddling and PR spinning is now what we hear. We should be cheering in the streets. As far as small little rocky worlds go, we are not alone. How profound is that !? Alas, when the news is eventually released, as everyone seems to think it will be, there will be a caveat tossed in - people will wonder if this is the real thing or yet another false alarm. Leave it to NASA scientists to screw up a good thing like this.

If you are going to go out and talk about things with such an epochal potential for all humans to think about, you owe it to everyone involved (in other words everyone, everywhere) to make damn sure you know how to convey this information. If not, then find someone who can do it.

We could certainly use Carl Sagan right now.

Keith's note: Word has it that there are big worries at NASA and Northrop Grumman with regard to Webb Space Telescope. If NASA ends up operating under a Continuing Resolution - one that does not provide the increased funds that Webb requires - there is a fear that large layoffs may be in the near-term forecast. Stay tuned.

Exoplanets: Show me the data!, Nature

"And according to NASA Watch, the NASA astrophysics division is prohibiting discussion of the new 306 candidate planets until they are confirmed, even though they are now out in the public; the NASA press release associated with the data dump makes no mention of the 306 new candidates."

Kepler Craft Reports Apparent Planetary Bonanza, Science News

"The newly reported findings don't include details about the most interesting 400 of the 706 candidate planets, which orbit the brightest stars Kepler has surveyed. These cases may offer the most promise for finding planets with masses close to Earth's own. Information on these 400 planets won't be made public until next February."

Kepler space telescope finds possible planets, SF Chronicle

"It was only 15 years ago that Swiss astronomers discovered the first "exoplanet" orbiting another star beyond our solar system. Yet in only the first 43 days of its mission, Kepler discovered the 706 strange objects that astronomers are listing as candidates for planetary status."

Kepler Exoplanet Controversy Erupts, Discovery News

"Proprietary periods are nothing new, and provide a balance the helps observers out while preserving the openness of science in the long run. The complaints from the community stem from an extension of the proprietary period for the Kepler team that was granted in April. All of the data were set to be released this month, but the extension is until February 2011."

Keith's note: According to Nature "There are 306 planet candidates in the dataset, many of them Neptune sized, though as many as 50% could turn out to be false positives.". So ... why is NASA willing to release one set of data with such a potential high false positive rate - but not release the rest of the data - the data that seems to be the most provocative in its implications? If Ed Weiler and Jon Morse are really that worried about people running off with data that may not be flawless and jumping to erroneous conclusions, then why release anything in the first place? Anyone on Earth with an Internet connection can look at what was released and the papers submitted for review. This makes no sense.

NASA is struggling to be seen as being more relevant to people - in their daily lives and the future their children will inherit. As such, dangling this tantalizing stuff just out of reach for incompletely explained and outmoded reasons does little to help the agency appear to be relevant - and worth the investment.

Oh yes, a movie about life on an extrasolar planet - discovered by a search project such as Kepler - has grossed over $2.7 billion so far ($750 million in the U.S. alone) ... does anyone at NASA pay attention to things like this?

Kepler Data Dump - And NASA Ignores it (Update), Earlier post

What's next for NASA?, Mario Livio, Baltimore Sun

"In recent days, some of those criticizing NASA's proposed budget have tried to paint a picture of an agency without a vision. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. NASA's far-reaching ambitions in space science have been, and will continue to be, truly inspiring"

Keith's note: While Livio does make a number of cogent points about space science, I find it a little odd that he can make statements about the agency's overall "vision" while making zero mention of human spaceflight. If some members of Congress have their way, NASA will need to find more money somewhere - and that somewhere may well be space science. Perhaps then he'll take the time to look at the other things that NASA does. I am rather certain that Livio was in the audience last night at the Air and Space Museum for the premiere of Hubble IMAX 3D - a movie that was equally balanced between human and robotic spaceflight. I guess he missed all of those space suited astronauts working on the gem of his institute's research - one of whom works down the hall from him at STScI ...

Kepler Delivers

Kepler Space Telescope Discovers Five Exoplanets

"NASA's Kepler space telescope, designed to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, has discovered its first five new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.
Kepler's high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. The discoveries were announced Monday, Jan. 4, by members of the Kepler science team during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington."

Initial (long) list of Kepler publications below:

Obama set to launch vision for NASA, USA Today

"President Obama will chart a course for NASA within weeks, based on the advice of a handful of key advisers in the administration and Congress. Obama, who met Dec. 16 with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, hasn't said when or how he'll announce his new policy. The announcement likely will come by the time the president releases his fiscal 2011 budget in early February, because he must decide how much money the space agency should get."

Charles Bolden Speaks at AAS
NASA Town Hall at AAS (with Ed Weiler and Lori Garver)

Keith's 4 Jan update: According to NASA HQ PAO: "Weiler and Garver are not scheduled to speak at this event. As usual for this AAS event, the NASA Town Hall is hosted by SMD Astrophysics director Jon Morse with SMD Chief Scientist Paul Hertz in attendance."

Keith's 23 Dec note: The audience at the AAS meeting will be composed of several thousand scientists with a large number of journalists and bloggers. The questions that the audience asks of Mr. Bolden (assuming that he takes questions) and other NASA officials should be interesting. Mars Science Lab overruns continue to drain funds from other things that SMD should be doing - with more to be announced. Webb Space Telescope overruns continue - leading to an additional drain. The inside scoop is that the NASA space science budget is flat lined in the FY 2011 budget. Also, SMD will likely be carved (back) into two entities - Earth Science and Space Science thus diminishing Ed Weiler's resources. ESMD will likely be downscoped into an exploration technology R&D group with launch vehicle development shifted to SOMD. Stay tuned.

NASA Partners with Saudi Arabia on Moon and Asteroid Research

"NASA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) have signed a joint statement that allows for collaboration in lunar and asteroid science research. The partnership recognizes the Saudi Lunar and Near-Earth Object Science Center as an affiliate partner with the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif."

Submitted to YouTube by logolou: "A large ball of fire streaking across the night time skies just after midnight had many Utahn's wondering what they saw early Wednesday morning."

ESO: Media Telecon to Discuss Significant Exoplanet Finding

"On Monday 19 October 2009, astronomers will report at the international ESO/CAUP exoplanet conference in Porto, Portugal, on a significant discovery in the field of exoplanets, obtained with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS, the spectrograph for ESO's 3.6-meter telescope."

From the same authors, using the same instrument: arXiv:0906.2780: The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets XVIII. An Earth-mass planet in the GJ 581 planetary system

"We report here the detection of an additional planet - GJ 581e - with a minimum mass of 1.9 M_earth With a period of 3.15 days, it is the innermost planet of the system and has a 5% transit probability."

President Obama kicked off Astronomy Night on the South Lawn of the White House. Some 150 middle school students from the Washington area got to learn more about their universe using more than 20 telescopes provided by NASA and other organizations. They observed Jupiter, the moon and selected stars. Other activities included science presentations with samples of meteorites and moon rocks. NASA's Museum Alliance, a consortium of museums, science centers and planetariums conducted activities worldwide to coincide with the White House event. Astronomy Night helped note the International Year of Astronomy, a global celebration of contributions to society and culture in the 400 years since Galileo first used a telescope.

High-School Student Discovers Strange Astronomical Object

"A West Virginia high-school student analyzing data from a giant radio telescope has discovered a new astronomical object -- a strange type of neutron star called a rotating radio transient. Lucas Bolyard, a sophomore at South Harrison High School in Clarksburg, WV, made the discovery while participating in a project in which students are trained to scrutinize data from the National Science Foundation's giant Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope(GBT). The project, called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), is a joint project of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and West Virginia University (WVU), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Bolyard made the discovery in March, after he already had studied more than 2,000 data plots from the GBT and found nothing."

Astronomy and the Media: a love story?

"In astronomy as in other scientific or societal fields, communication is an important aspect that no single organisation can overlook. Especially public research organisations should be accountable to the public for the tax money they use. This is only possible if the public is well informed. But this is even more crucial in order to secure additional funding for new projects.

As one scientist said, perhaps a little bit too provocatively, "the one percent spent on outreach allows one to get the 99 percent to have the project done". This is most likely too strong a statement but the general idea is there. Communication is also important to entertain the necessary excellent relations with the local communities - some of the large astronomical observatories know a lot about this.

Communication is also essential for astronomy to fulfil a fundamental role in modern society: attracting bright youngsters to scientific careers. Although girls and boys are more and more moving away from science, there is a great need for future scientists. And even if the young people won't become scientists, it is important that they are sensitive to science as a whole: as grown-ups, they won't be able to avoid relying on science in their daily life, and they will have to take decisions with a scientific dimension."

"Our ancestors observed the heavens for religious and secular reasons, with astronomy and astrology largely indistinguishable. Observations of stars, planets and constellations were used to create calendars that provided agricultural societies with valuable information for the seasonal planting and harvesting of crops, as well as to predict future events or to discern divine messages from the cosmos. Given the importance of such activities to the cultural identity and even physical survival of ancient people, it is not surprising that sky watchers had prominent roles in their societies. An abundance of archaeological evidence from around the world attests to the importance of the ancient astronomer. In modern times, however, public perception of astronomers began to change as astronomy evolved from an applied to a pure science. With less prominent roles in their societies, astronomers were forced to seek new forms of financial support for their scholarly activities from governments or wealthy benefactors and to justify their continued value to their fellow citizens. Although we live today in a time of remarkable astronomical discoveries, as many politicians and businesses know the public's collective memory can be short, and hence astronomers cannot afford to be complacent about our public image."

"Public Perception of Astronomers: Revered, Reviled and Ridiculed", by Michael J. West, European Southern Observatory, Invited review to appear in The Role of Astronomy in Society and Culture: Proceedings of IAU Symposium No. 260, 2009. [Full paper] [More information at astro-ph]

Final Memorandum on Audit of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Program Management Effectiveness

"SOFIA Program management had made significant progress in identifying and addressing past problems associated with management structure, schedule, and quality assurance. Program management had established adequate risk assessment and quality assurance processes to oversee contractor performance with respect to the accomplishment of near-term goals. However, we found that Program management had not yet completed actions required to address the long-term servicing needs of the aircraft, had not requested an independent cost estimate (ICE), and lacked an effective cost control process to evaluate the Program's cost efficiency in meeting schedule milestones. As a result, Program management cannot accurately assess the effects of long-term aircraft servicing and maintenance on the Program's life-cycle costs, demonstrate cost efficiencies, or provide earned value for completed contractor work."

Kepler Is On Its Way

The Kepler Mission Begins

"The Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft lifted off on time at 10:49 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spectacular nighttime launch followed a smooth countdown free of technical issues or weather concerns. The Kepler spacecraft will watch a patch of space for 3.5 years or more for signs of Earth-sized planets moving around stars similar to the sun. The patch that Kepler will watch contains about 100,000 stars like the sun. Using special detectors similar to those used in digital cameras, Kepler will look for a slight dimming in the stars as planets pass between the stars and Kepler."

Step Out Tonight, Free Space

"What are you doing this evening, right around sunset? Have a minute to step outside? Should be more than worth your time. Face south and look up. No matter where you live, no matter how bright your cities' lights. As long as it's not cloudy, you will see a beautiful and inspiring sight: two bright planets and the crescent moon. That'd be Venus and Jupiter, for those of you who like to name names."

Send Us Your Jupiter and Venus Pics!, Discovery.com

"Alan Dyer and Irene Klotz have astutely pointed out that Venus and Jupiter are set to glorify the night sky around sunset tonight (Monday, December 1st)."

Reader note: "I hope you will write a post on this tidbit of ludditery from McCain at tonight's Presidential debate. Senator McCain said Sen. Obama supported a congressional earmark of "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" The Adler Planetarium to which Sen. McCain refers is one of our key education and public outreach partners for many NASA projects. Sen. McCain's criticism of the heart of the Adler Planetarium is anti-science, threatening to kill off one of the best ways we have to communicate the scientific results of a NASA mission to the public. The suggestion that this is somehow just an overpriced tranparency projector is disengenous at best."

Obama Announces FY08 Federal Funding Requests

"Adler Planetarium, to support replacement of its projector and related equipment, $3,000,000 - One of its most popular attractions and teaching tools at the Adler Planetarium is the Sky Theater. The projection equipment in this theater is 40 years old, and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience."

Tyson and Sykes Duke Out the Great Planet Debate; Flatow Almost Flattened, Universe Today

"A debate today between astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson and planetary scientist Mark Sykes, moderated by NPR's Ira Flatow, addressed the issue of Pluto's planetary status. There was lots of arm-waving and finger-pointing, endless interruptions, disagreements on details big and small, and battling one-liners. The two scientists sat at a table with the moderator between them and Flatow was often obscured by Tyson and Sykes getting in each other's faces in eye-to-eye confrontation. At one point, Flatow was hit by Tyson's ebullient arm motions. Yes, it was heated. But it was fun, too."

NASA's Deep Impact Films Earth as an Alien World

"NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has created a video of the moon transiting (passing in front of) Earth as seen from the spacecraft's point of view 31 million miles away. Scientists are using the video to develop techniques to study alien worlds. "Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the Universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earth-like alien world would appear to us," said University of Maryland astronomer Michael A'Hearn, principal investigator for the Deep Impact extended mission, called EPOXI."

Video below

Can't remember the 11 planets? 4th-grader offers help, AP

"Those having trouble remembering the newly assigned 11 planets, including three dwarfs, are getting help from a fourth-grader. Maryn Smith, the winner of the National Geographic planetary mnemonic contest, has created a handy way to remember the planets and their order in distance from the sun."

Griffin At AAS

Astronomy and NASA - Rewards and Challenges: Address By NASA Administrator Mike Griffin Before the American Astronomical Society

"My relationship with the scientific community during my time at NASA has been frustrating at times, despite the fact that I think there has not been an Administrator who understands and appreciates, at a relatively deep level, the richness of what you do - not just the astronomers, but all of science. But from my first days at NASA, as with one voice, there has been a single concern - the budget is not what once was promised - and little further discussion has been possible."

Volunteer firefighters save mountaintop, SIgn On San Diego

"The top of Palomar Mountain hasn't burned in recorded history. Today, largely because of tireless volunteer firefighters and relentless air attacks, that still holds true."

Cosmology@Home

Home Computers to Help Researchers Better Undestand Universe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"Want to help unravel the mysteries of the universe? A new distributed computing project designed by a University of Illinois researcher allows people around the world to participate in cutting-edge cosmology research by donating their unused computing cycles. The project is called Cosmology@Home, and is similar to SETI@Home, a popular program that searches radio telescope data for evidence of extraterrestrial transmissions."

Animation depicting an Ares V launch and the deployment of a very large telescope.

Video below.

Saving Arecibo

HR 3737: To provide for National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration utilization of the Arecibo Observatory

"(3) Arecibo Observatory's planetary radar has unique abilities worldwide for research on our solar system, including near-Earth asteroids. Besides their scientific importance, near-Earth asteroids may be both a significant hazard to Earth and a potential source of future resources."

Hearing: Near-Earth Objects - Status of the Survey Program and Review of NASA's Report to Congress

Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee Meeting

NSF Dear Colleague on the Senior Review: Arecibo

Google SETI?

Radio Telescope And Its Budget Hang in the Balance, Washington Post

"Driving beneath the giant dish in a rickety Jeep, [Arecibo Director Robert] Kerr is not counting on Congress. So he continues to brainstorm. Don't laugh, he said, but lately he has been thinking about naming rights. "Imagine the word 'Google' painted across that 19-acre dish," Kerr said. "What do you think that would be worth?""

A Performance Assessment of NASA's Astrophysics Program, National Research Council

"In early 2006, NASA asked the NRC to conduct such an assessment for the agency's Astrophysics Division. This report presents an assessment of how well NASA s current program addresses the strategies, goals, and priorities outlined in previous Academy reports. The report provides an analysis of progress toward realizing these strategies, goals, and priorities; and a discussion of actions that could be taken to optimize the scientific value of the program in the context of current and forecasted resources."

SOFIA Takes To The Air

SOFIA Airborne Observatory Completes First Test Flight

"L-3 Communications announced today that NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), completed its first test flight following extensive aircraft modification and telescope integration at the company's L-3 Integrated Systems (L-3 IS) Waco, Texas facility. SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP extensively modified to carry a 45,000-pound (20 metric ton), 98.4-inch (2.5-meter) diameter infrared telescope assembly provided by the German Aerospace Center, DLR."

Astronomers find first habitable Earth-like planet, ESO

"Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses."

Editor's note: A National Research Council Assessment of NASA's Astrophysics Program will be released on Wednesday, 7 Feb. at 4:00 pm EST. This congressionally mandated report assesses the strategies, goals, and priorities of NASA's program to study celestial objects and the physical laws that govern the universe. The report identifies ways NASA can reduce mission costs and boost the diversity of its missions.

Well Worth A Look

Crescent Venus and Moon Astronomy Picture of the Day, NASA GSFC

"There's something behind these clouds. Those faint graceful arcs, upon inspection, are actually far, far in the distance. They are the Earth's Moon and the planet Venus. Both the Moon and Venus are bright enough to be seen during the day, and both are quite capable of showing a crescent phase."

Volunteer Observatory WASP-1b Observations, Fleenor Astronomy Webpage

"I am pleased to report my successful observation of WASP-1b, on 2006.10.02 UT from my backyard observatory in Knoxville, TN (USA). This is a newly discovered exoplanet in the constellation Andromeda orbiting the star GSC 2265: 0107."

Nation's Astronomers Continue Dialog with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, American Astronomical Society

"We do not have a looming problem or a workforce crisis. 25% of the NASA workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five years, though of course not all will do so. I regard this as an opportunity to bring in the next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars"

Students advised to seek experience in the private aeronautics sector, Salt Lake Tribune

"It simply is not among the top priorities I have at NASA to fund student experiments," Griffin said during a question-and-answer session."

Editor's note: Mike: If you are not going to step up and help generate the "next generation of scientists and engineers, who will take us to the Moon and Mars", who is?

The IAU draft definition of 'planet' and 'plutons', IAU

"The draft "Planet Definition" Resolution will be discussed and refined during the General Assembly and then it (plus four other Resolutions) will be presented for voting at the 2nd session of the GA 24 August between 14:00 and 17:30 CEST."

Reader (Renowned Planetary Scientist) note: IAU's definition 5A just passed - the one that excludes Pluto as a planet. Look at the murky wording, it also excludes Earth and Jupiter because their zones are not cleared (NEOs, Trojans, respectively).

The Final IAU Resolution on the definition of "planet" ready for voting

"RESOLUTION 5A ... (1) A planet1 is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit."


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