Astronomy: June 2017 Archives

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog with Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

"NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet. With the release of this catalog, derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified."

BETTII Balloon Mission Ends in Failure

"At the conclusion of the mission Friday, June 9, NASA conducted an analysis of atmospheric conditions and a survey of the operational area as part of a safety analysis in preparation for flight termination. Once the balloon reached a safe flight termination area, characterized by sparse population but still relatively accessible via roads, flight controllers at CSBF sent flight termination commands to separate the parachute/payload from the balloon. After the commands were sent, the connection between the payload gondola and parachute failed. The payload separated from the parachute and free fell to the ground in a remote, wooded area northeast of Sterling City, Texas, resulting in the loss of the payload."

Three Night Time Science Flights Planned from Texas Balloon Launch Facility

"BETTII, launching via a 39.57-million-cubic-foot scientific balloon comparable in size to a football stadium, is flight ready with a launch attempt planned Thursday, June 8, pending weather. This initial flight is focused on the testing and characterization of the payload to lay the groundwork for future flights studying star formation and the nuclei of galaxies. Data acquired with BETTII will be complimentary to observations with space observatories such as Herschel and the James Webb Space Telescope."

Keith's note: I have asked NASA Wallops PAO - UPDATE - responses included below:

- Did the BETTII payload perform as planned and collect data prior to detachment?
Response: This was the first BETTII flight, an engineering flight to test out systems. In that vein, the payload performed very well with nearly all systems performing exactly as expected. With the data received through radio telemetry, the science team is confident they have sufficient information to complete the payload test analysis.

- Was BETTII data sent back by radio or was it recorded on devices within the payload?
Response: Some data was sent down via radio but the majority was stored onboard in solid state drives. The drives have not yet been recovered; we expect to recover the drives in a few days.

- If BETTII data was recorded on devices within the payload is that data stored in an armored/hardened device that can survive a non-parachute descent and impact from the payload's planned release altitude?
Response: The drives were protected for a nominal landing only; we expect to recover the drives in the next few days and remain hopeful that we'll be able to recover data from them.

- How much did the BETTII payload cost and who funded this payload?
Response: BETTII was funded through the NASA Research Opportunities in Earth and Space Science (ROSES) program, winning proposals in 2010, 2015, and 2016. Altogether, funding given to this project was about $7M.

- Will another BETTII payload be built to replace the hardware that was lost?
Response: It's unknown at this time, but the science team is hopeful they'll have another opportunity for this mission.

NASA's Dark-Energy Probe Faces Cost Crisis, Scientific American

"Above all, the agency wants to keep WFIRST from following the path of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a successor to the Hubble telescope that is scheduled to launch in 2018. That project's cost spiralled from $1 billion in the early 2000s to $8.8 billion--and nearly exhausted NASA's astrophysics budget. The WFIRST review is meant to stave off that kind of meltdown. "This is a good time to take a look at the scale and scope of the mission," says Jon Morse, a former head of NASA's astrophysics division who is now chief executive of the BoldlyGo Institute, a non-profit space-exploration organization in New York City. "Nobody wants this thing to double in cost."

LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves Detected for Third Time, Caltech

"The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) has made a third detection of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened. As was the case with the first two detections, the waves were generated when two black holes collided to form a larger black hole. The newfound black hole, formed by the merger, has a mass about 49 times that of our Sun. This fills in a gap between the masses of the two merged black holes detected previously by LIGO, with solar masses of 62 (first detection) and 21 (second detection)."


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