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Topic 24 of 92: Beyond Planet Earth

Wed, Nov 17, 1999 (14:23) | Marcia (MarciaH)
24 new of 1013 responses total.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 989 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Tue, Aug  3, 2004 (08:56) * 24 lines 
NASA's Messenger Probe Departs for Mercury

August 3, 2004

APE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA’s Messenger spacecraft streaked into a clear sky early today, beginning a 5 billion-mile journey to Mercury.

Liftoff aboard a Delta 2 rocket came at 2:16 a.m. EDT and after a 24-hour weather delay. The bright flame lit up the sky already illuminated by the moon and reflected off the Atlantic Ocean.

Once Messenger arrives in orbit around the planet in 2011, its battery of seven instruments will study Mercury’s heavily cratered surface, the composition of its core, its thin atmosphere, and its magnetic field. The total cost of the mission is $427 million.

Two thirds of the planet is made of iron said Sean C. Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the program's principal investigator. But little more is known. Only one other spacecraft, Mariner 10, has visited the planet. During the three quick flybys of Mercury in the mid-1970s, the probe sent enough images to map just half of the planet’s surface.

“We know much about Mercury as we knew about the moon before the Space Age,” said Mark S. Robinson, of Northwestern University, and program co-investigator.

The planet’s other half is still a mystery – just like the other side of the moon was until 45 years ago.

One known fact is that temperatures at the equator reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the shadow of craters at the poles they drop to minus 300 degrees, Dr. Solomon said. That means water ice could be present -- trapped there for billions of years.

The roundabout, seven-year journey through the inner solar system includes a 2005 close encounter with Earth for a so-called gravity assist, or slingshot effect. That will fling Messenger toward Venus, which in turn will hurl the 1.2-ton craft toward Mercury. Its gravity tug will finally capture Messenger as it performs the third flyby of the planet.

Orbital mechanics aside, the long journey is the result of a compromise between the weight of Messenger (half of which is fuel) and the relatively inexpensive rocket used to launch it. The space probe is part NASA’s low-priced exploration initiative known as the Discovery program.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 990 of 1013: Marcia  (MarciaH) * Tue, Aug 10, 2004 (09:31) * 5 lines 
They finally got the Mercury Messenger into space. This should prove as interesting as the rest of the planetary probes.

Now, for you late night folks,the Perseid Meteor shower is about to commence.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 991 of 1013: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Wed, Aug 11, 2004 (05:23) * 1 lines 
Any ETA on Messenger, Marci?

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 992 of 1013: Marcia  (MarciaH) * Sat, Aug 28, 2004 (20:58) * 1 lines 
None that I haveheard recently other than it will take a few months to get there (or was it years?!) I suspect as it nears landing or even orbiting, we will hear a great deal more. I am eager to know what they find.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 993 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Sat, Aug 28, 2004 (21:13) * 3 lines 
when is the meteor shower? hope i don't miss it again!

any more news on our probe to Saturn?

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 994 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Wed, Sep  1, 2004 (07:15) * 36 lines 
New class of planets found

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new class of planets has been found orbiting stars besides our sun, in a possible giant leap forward in the search for Earth-like planets that might harbour life, scientists say.

"We can't quite see the Earth-like planets yet, but we are seeing their big brothers, and hopefully we will be bearing down on these small-mass planets soon," said Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the co-discoverer of one of the new planets.

The two new planets are about 15 to 20 times more massive than Earth -- approximately the mass of Neptune -- and have diameters about two or three times the size of our home planet, astronomers said at a news conference at NASA headquarters.

That makes these new bodies different from most of the other so-called exoplanets found in the last decade outside our solar system. These other planets, more than 100 of them, are generally about the mass of Jupiter -- about 318 times Earth's mass -- and are thought to be balls of gas, completely inhospitable to life as Earthlings know it.

But the newly discovered planets indicate that planetary systems around other stars could have the same assortment of planets as in our solar system: big gassy ones like Jupiter, middle-weight rocky ones like Neptune and just possibly, relatively small rocks like Earth.

If scientists find an Earth-mass planet, they could then search for one located just the right distance from its star, making it temperate enough to allow for the presence of water on its surface, considered a requirement for life.

No one has ever seen an extrasolar planet. Most have been detected by looking for a characteristic wobble in a distant star, a sign that a planet's gravity is tugging on the star in a specific way.


Butler and fellow planet-hunter Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, discovered one of the Neptune-mass planets around a small star called Gliese 436, some 30 light-years away in the constellation Leo, a stone's throw in cosmic terms.

The other neptunian planet was discovered by Barbara McArthur of the University of Texas, Austin. This one is orbiting the star 55 Cancri in the constellation Cancer, about 40 light-years away. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km), the distance light travels in a year.

Both zip around their respective stars in three days or less, at a small fraction of the distance that Earth orbits the sun.

The planet around 55 Cancri is the fourth planet detected there, but the others in that system fit the gas-giant mold, the scientists said.

The two new discoveries are the smallest planets found so far around sun-like stars, the American astronomers said. They acknowledged that a European team of astronomers announced last week the discovery of a planet some 14 times Earth's mass, a so-called super Earth.

However, Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution said credit for such discoveries is based on when academic papers are submitted for publication, not on when they are announced to the media. Under this rule, Boss said, the European team would get credit for discovering the third Neptune-mass planet.

"It's a stiff competition but we're quite friendly," Marcy said of the European planet-hunting team. "... We recognize that the best science is done when there's a bit of tension, a bit of competition, but friendly, with science as the ultimate goal."

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 995 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Wed, Sep  1, 2004 (20:28) * 1 lines 
thanks for posting that, Cheryl, i read about it too but forgot to relook it up when i got home and was able to post.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 996 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Thu, Sep  2, 2004 (12:33) * 17 lines 
Could Space Signal Be Alien Contact?

LONDON (Reuters) - An unexplained radio signal from deep space could -- just might be -- contact from an alien civilization, New Scientist magazine reported on Thursday.

The signal, coming from a point between the Pisces and Aries constellations, has been picked up three times by a telescope in Puerto Rico.

New Scientist said the signal could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon or even be a by-product from the telescope itself.

But the mystery beam has excited astronomers across the world.

"If they can see it four, five or six times it really begins to get exciting," Jocelyn Bell Burnell of the University of Bath in western England told the magazine.

It was broadcast on the main frequency at which the universe's most common element, hydrogen, absorbs and emits energy, and which astronomers say is the most likely means by which aliens would advertise their presence.

The potentially extraterrestrial signals were picked up through the SETI@home project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through the huge amount of data picked up by the telescope.§ion=news

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 997 of 1013: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Thu, Sep  2, 2004 (14:28) * 3 lines 
Do we want to answer? Do we want to let the Universe know we're here? It's a calculated risk, isn't it?

Lots of unknowns.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 998 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Thu, Sep  2, 2004 (17:18) * 1 lines 
dunno, terry, think they already know we're here. or what if it's a wormhole bringing back our own signal? very neat find. i used to run seti on my computer but the AM thought it slowed everything down, then we moved, and alas...i'm gonna post the link in paraspring!

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 999 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Fri, Sep  3, 2004 (07:19) * 3 lines 
Terry that's an interesting question as to whether or not we want to answer. There are a lot of questions involved. Due to the vast distances in space the senders, or rather, those like them may no longer exist anymore. Maybe what we'll get is some of their old entertainment broadcasts, kind of like the joke that we've been sending "I Love Lucy" out into space for over fifty years. Okay, that's television, not radio.

Wolfie, I do find your suggestion that maybe it might be one our own signals returning to us. That would be ironic.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1000 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Fri, Sep  3, 2004 (13:14) * 15 lines 
Now it seems there are no alien signals.

Mystery Radio Signal 'Not Aliens'

BBC News Online is reporting that a radio signal from deep space is not from aliens, according to astronomers. The scientists quelled rumors that spread across the web after New Scientist magazine reported that a signal picked up by a telescope in Puerto Rico might be from an alien civilization.

But the Seti@home project's chief scientist, Dr. Dan Wertheimer, told BBC that, "It's all hype and noise…. We have nothing that is unusual."

The BBC News Online story also cited Dr. Paul Horowitz of Harvard University. "It's not much of anything at all. We're not investigating it further," Horowitz said, according to the story. He reportedly said what the telescope picked up was "not new and definitely not a signal.",1282,64818,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_6

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1001 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Fri, Sep  3, 2004 (14:38) * 1 lines 
isn't that what they always want us to think--they want us to believe it's nothing because it's something *laugh* (i'm no conspiracy theorist, really)....oh well, back to the drawing board.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1002 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Fri, Sep 17, 2004 (09:01) * 43 lines 
Pulsating red giants hide inside deceptive shells

Maggie McKee news service

An optical illusion has caused astronomers to overestimate the size of a class of giant stars by a factor of two, according to new observations. The revised size measurements are likely to clear up some mysteries about the strange objects, while deepening others.

Pulsating red giants – called Mira variable stars – have long fascinated astronomers. They brighten and dim by a thousand times or more over periods of 100 to 1000 days. Mira stars are of particular interest as they began life about the same size as the Sun.

However, by the time they become pulsating red giants – between 5 billion and 10 billion years of age – their diameter has grown hundreds of times greater. In another 5 billion years, the Sun will go through a similarly bloated phase.

But gauging the sizes of even such large stars is difficult, as they still look like points of light through telescopes. And Mira stars appear to be different sizes depending on which wavelength of light is used to observe them, looking larger in visible light, for example, and smaller at near-infrared wavelengths.

Vapour shells

Previous observations have also revealed the relatively cool stars to be shrouded in extended cocoons of water, carbon monoxide, and other molecules.

Now, an international team of astronomers has studied six nearby Mira stars using an array of linked infrared telescopes in Mount Hopkins, Arizona. They say that Mira stars are half the size they were thought to be because their vapour shells make them look deceptively large.

Though titanium oxide - a molecule found in the white pigment of sunscreens - makes the shells look opaque in visible light, the shells were transparent to the Infrared-Optical Telescope Array (IOTA) used by the team.

They peered through the shells and found that previous measurements of the stars' sizes were based on the shells' diameters, rather than the stellar surfaces, making the stars just half as wide as previously thought.

"We're finding there's a lot more water than one would expect at high levels of the atmosphere, which gives the peculiar effect of the shell being confused with the surface of the star," says team member Stephen Ridgway of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. The research will be published in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Ridgway says shock waves responsible for the stars' pulsations may lift gas from the star into this shell. And he hopes the new research may help develop models of how Mira stars belch out more than three-quarters of the galaxy's molecules.

"There are so many of these stars and they lose so much material into space, they make a very important contribution to forming new stars," he told New Scientist.

Discrepancies explained

Mark Reid, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says the results may help explain some discrepancies between theory and observation, while increasing others.

"Theoreticians trying to model why these stars pulsate always come up with much smaller sizes than observers see. If observers were always seeing above the surface, that would explain the inconsistency," he says.

But the problem of how the stars "levitate" that much material high above their surfaces "becomes more serious" for smaller stars, Reid adds.

Ridgway says he has also observed a water layer around young supergiant stars which, unlike Mira variables, do not have shock waves that might explain the molecular levitation. The next step is to look at “considerably less exotic stars" to see how widespread the phenomenon is, he says.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1003 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Wed, Sep 22, 2004 (11:25) * 29 lines 
Mars Rovers' Mission Extends with New Goals, New Funding

By Chris Kridler

CAPE CANAVERAL - The Mars rovers emerged from a communications blackout period and the low point of winter today with new funding and big plans for the journey ahead.

Engineers hope to put Spirit atop Husband Hill so it can get a view all the way to the edge of vast Gusev Crater, in which it landed.

On the other side of the planet, Opportunity will soon leave Endurance Crater, visiting its discarded heat shield along the way, and make a 3-mile journey to Victoria Crater.

"There are things I look forward to, and one of them is getting out of the crater and starting the monumental trek south," project manager Jim Erickson said. "Being able to make that happen is still cool."

Both of NASA's robotic geologists are probing the history of water on Mars. They are back in full communication today with the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California after several days of the sun blocking communications.

"We got little snippets of data through the noise," Erickson said.

They also marked the winter solstice on Mars, an important landmark because it means that days will get longer and the rovers will get more sunlight, which they use for energy.

Dust collecting on the solar panels has apparently leveled off, Erickson said. Though it may get a little colder before it gets warmer, he said, "the real important factor is how much solar energy we get, and that's looking great."

Spirit's sticky wheel seems to have stabilized, he said, and its instruments appear fine. "We're so happy on Spirit, we're going to see if we can punish these things a little further," Erickson said.

Opportunity's mini-thermal emission spectrometer, which identifies the composition of rocks, so far has survived the cold. The team is keeping an eye on it because a stuck heater forced engineers to shut down the rover's electronics -- including heaters -- in "deep sleep" each night to conserve energy.

The rovers landed on Mars in January, anticipating a 90-day, $820 million mission. The team got a $15 million, six-month extension last spring, then funding for longer-term data analysis.

NASA just authorized an additional $2.8 million a month for six more months of operations, Erickson said.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1004 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Wed, Sep 22, 2004 (20:26) * 1 lines 
so glad to hear that the mars expedition is still going on, don't hear about it much anymore. thanks, cheryl!

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1005 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Mon, Sep 27, 2004 (11:34) * 26 lines 
Branson reaches for the stars

Sir Richard Branson today announced that he had signed a licensing deal to create a fleet of spacecraft offering commercial flights to space by 2007-8.
Speaking at the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways, Sir Richard said he planned to invest £60m in space tourism, making it accessible to the general public.

The Virgin boss this weekend signed a deal with the California-based Mojave Aerospace Ventures (MAV) for craft based on SpaceShipOne, a rocket-propelled reusable space vehicle created by the aerospace designer Burt Rutan.

Sir Richard said he hoped to offer space flights on which five passengers would each pay £115,000.

The tycoon, who has unsuccessfully attempted to circle the world by hot air balloon, said he planned to be on the first Virgin space flight, which could take place in three years time.

Speaking at the launch, held at the Royal Aeronautical Society in central London, Sir Richard said: "Today is a historic day - it will bring the dream of space travel for many millions closer to reality.

"I hope, with the launch of Virgin Galactic and the building of our fleet of spacecraft, that one day children around the world will wonder why we ever thought that space travel was a dream we read about in books."

Flights are planned to leave from a launchpad in the US, and Virgin expects to create 3,000 "astronauts" over a five-year period. Paying passengers will be given three days training.

SpaceShipOne has been tipped to win the Ansari X-Prize of £5m, which will be awarded to the designers of any private three-person craft that travels more than 100km (62miles) into space twice in a fortnight.

Mr Rutan's craft - one of around 20 chasing the X-Prize - reached 100km in June, hitting the headlines as the world's first privately manned space flight. He is expected to begin his bid for the prize with a flight this Wednesday.

"Our June space flight was flown with several new technologies that address both the cost and safety of manned space flight," Mr Rutan said. "These, combined with the lessons learned from our SpaceShipOne research programme, will enable us to develop the finest suborbital operational systems possible."

Two businessmen have already become space tourists after paying around £11m to travel. US businessman Dennis Tito became the first in 2001, and was followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth 12 months later.,3604,1313933,00.html

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1006 of 1013: Marcia  (MarciaH) * Mon, Sep 27, 2004 (13:26) * 3 lines 
Terry raises a great point on whether or not to let "more advanced civilizations" know we are here. I presuppose that those lesser would not be able to interpert our abilities nor to be a menace to us. In any case, Human kind has always been Far too curious! Like small children, we want to make the most noise and get attention even if it is negative. Personally, I'd let the aliens come to us! We are too busy trying to obliterate one another to have time for quality conferencing with aliens. Just a thought.

Please bear with me. I am currently on a NEW laptop - this time it is on one with a complete keyboard. As far as I can tell, I have a seonc broken hard drive (NOT crashed, BROKEN!!!) on my laptop that had all the files and research on it. I will be trying to get some sort of recovery if that is possible. Last time I had to replace a broken hard drive on that laptop I was not able to recover anything. This gets VERY old. Thanks.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1007 of 1013: Cheryl  (CherylB) * Mon, Sep 27, 2004 (13:39) * 1 lines 
Glad to know that your still out there in the cyberworld, Marcia. I'm sorry to hear about your broken hardrive which had your research files on it. I hope that you can salvage most, if not all of it.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1008 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Tue, Sep 28, 2004 (18:03) * 1 lines 
hi marcia *HUGS*

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1009 of 1013: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Wed, Sep 29, 2004 (08:40) * 2 lines 
An idea, if the laptop hard drive is a standard ide drive, you can put it in the desktop you may have and run it as a slave drive. This way you could get the data off it and have it as a second drive.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1010 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Wed, Sep 29, 2004 (17:19) * 1 lines 
an asteroid is passing by the earth today - go to to find out more!

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1011 of 1013: Marcia  (MarciaH) * Sat, Oct  2, 2004 (22:38) * 25 lines 
Interesting thought but it is broken - physically. The reader just bangs around against the houseing sides and refuses to get out of DOS. I am considering another new hard drive for that computer for back up and I will also get it a cooling platform like the one I got for the new laptop. It seems to work very well. Toshibas run hot and that was the difficulty with two of my previous laptops.

Wolfie thanks for mentioning it:

ASTEROID FLYBY: Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is flying past Earth this week. The
weirdly tumbling space rock is close enough (4 lunar distances) and bright
enough (9th magnitude) to see through backyard telescopes. For the next
few days it will scoot through the constellation Capricornus where amateur
astronomers worldwide can find it. By Sept. 29th, when Toutatis is
closest to Earth, it will be visible mainly from the southern hemisphere.
Observers there can see it passing not far from the bright star Alpha
Centauri. Follow the links at to sky maps and detailed

AURORA SEASON: Solar activity is low, and will probably remain so in the
days ahead. Nevertheless, this is the time of year to be extra-alert for
auroras. Studies show that northern autumn, which began on Sept. 22nd, is
the best of all seasons for geomagnetic storms. Visit
for more information and pictures.

 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1012 of 1013: Marcia  (MarciaH) * Thu, Oct 14, 2004 (00:21) * 8 lines 
Total lunar eclipse

On Wednesday night, Oct. 27th, North Americans can see a total eclipse of
the moon.


 Topic 24 of 92 [Geo]: Beyond Planet Earth
 Response 1013 of 1013: Curious Wolfie  (wolf) * Thu, Oct 14, 2004 (15:20) * 1 lines 
aaroooooooooo (y'see, i'm howling already)

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