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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Safe Landing...

Image of the Day Gallery

STS and the ISS in Orion...

See 2 fantastic views of the STS and ISS this evening and one at the back of Kessingland church where there is a clear East to South right round to the West Horizon, it came out of the West and was going just underneath the Orion Nebula before being lost to the shadow of the Earth-it would have made and incredible CCD picture seeing the STS one side and ISS the other side of Orion-especially when it was close to the Nebula-fantastic.
There was an earlier pass on this date that I observed but this one was the 20.27 U.T and 20.28 U.T pass on the 27/3/2009...
The STS should land tomorrow afternoon at 17.42 U.T at KSC...
Also look out for the Soyuz space craft which docks with the ISS tomorrow-have not seen this yet and probably won't as it will be attached to the ISS from now on-docks tomorrow afternoon with the ISS-good viewing.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Space Shuttle Atlantis for May...

NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis to Move to Launch Pad Tuesday
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to roll out to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, March 31, as preparations for the STS-125 mission move forward. Atlantis is targeted to lift off May 12 to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The first motion of the shuttle out of Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building is scheduled for 12:01 a.m. EDT. The fully assembled space shuttle, consisting of the orbiter, external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters, was mounted on a mobile launcher platform and will be delivered to the pad atop a crawler-transporter. The crawler will travel slower than 1 mph during the 3.4-mile journey. The process is expected to take approximately six hours.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of Atlantis' rollout to the launch pad beginning at 7 a.m. Video highlights will air on the NASA TV Video File.

Media are invited to a photo opportunity of the shuttle's move to the pad and an interview opportunity with Atlantis Flow Director Angie Brewer at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Dates and times of this event are subject to change. Updates are available by calling 321-867-2525.

Reporters must arrive at Kennedy's news center by 6:30 a.m. Tuesday for transportation to the viewing area. Foreign news media accreditation for this event is closed.

U.S. media without permanent Kennedy Space Center credentials must apply for accreditation online by 4 p.m., Sunday, March 29, at:

Badges can be picked up through Tuesday at the Kennedy Badging Office on State Road 405. The badging office opens at 6 a.m.

During Atlantis' 11-day mission, the crew of seven astronauts will make the final shuttle flight to Hubble. During five spacewalks, they will install two new instruments, repair two inactive ones and replace components. The result will be six working, complementary science instruments with capabilities beyond what is now available, and an extended operational lifespan for the telescope through at least 2014.

Scott Altman will be the commander of Atlantis. Gregory C. Johnson will be the pilot. Mission specialists will be John Grunsfeld, Mike Massimino, Megan McArthur, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good.

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

For information about the STS-125 mission and crew, visit:

- end -

New Astronaut Crew Launches to the ISS

March 26, 2009
RELEASE : 09-069
New Astronaut Crew Launches to International Space Station
HOUSTON -- The 19th crew to live and work aboard the International Space Station launched into orbit Thursday morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, and spaceflight participant and U.S. software engineer Charles Simonyi lifted off at 6:49 a.m. CDT.

They are scheduled to dock with the station at 8:14 a.m. Saturday, March 28. Padalka will serve as commander of Expeditions 19 and 20 aboard the station. Barratt will serve as a flight engineer for those two missions. Padalka and Barratt's other crewmate is Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. He arrived to the station March 17 on space shuttle Discovery.

Simonyi, flying to the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency, previously visited the complex in April 2007. He is the first spaceflight participant to make a second flight to the station and will spend 10 days aboard. Simonyi will return to Earth April 7 with Expedition 18 Commander Michael Fincke and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov, who have been on the station since October 2008.

The Expedition 19 crew will continue science investigations and prepare for the arrival of the rest of the station's first six-person contingent. Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk will launch from Baikonur on May 27, arriving at the station on May 29. After all the astronauts are aboard, Expedition 20 will begin, ushering in an era of six-person station crews. This mission also will be the first time the crew members represent all five International Space Station partners.

For more information about the space station and how to view it from Earth, visit:


- end -

Thursday, 26 March 2009

STS and ISS-Passes


SatelliteLocal Date/TimePassMax Elev


SatelliteLocal Date/TimePassMax Elev

Space Shuttle Discovery Set to Land Saturday

March 25, 2009
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The space shuttle Discovery's crew is expected to complete its mission to the International Space Station with a landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:43 p.m. EDT on Saturday, March 28. The return to Earth will conclude a 13-day flight. Nine of those days were spent docked to the station.
During the STS-119 mission, the shuttle and station crews installed and deployed the final set of solar arrays. The arrays provide the electricity to fully power science experiments and support the station's expanded crew of six in May. The flight also delivered Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, who replaced space station crew member Sandra Magnus. She spent more than four months aboard the station and will return to Earth aboard Discovery.
The entry flight control team in Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before permitting Discovery to return to Earth. Saturday's landing opportunities at Kennedy are at 1:43 p.m. and 3:19 p.m. If weather prevents a Kennedy landing Saturday, the secondary landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., will be activated Sunday for consideration as well.
Approximately two hours after landing, NASA officials will hold a media briefing to discuss the mission. The participants will be:
- Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations, NASA Headquarters, Washington
- Mike Leinbach, NASA space shuttle launch director, Kennedy
After touchdown in Florida, the astronauts will undergo physical examinations and meet with their families. The STS-119 crew is expected to hold a news conference about five hours after landing Saturday. Both news events will be broadcast live on NASA Television. Media interested in participating in the news conference at Kennedy must pick up their accreditation badges Friday.
The Kennedy News Center will open for landing activities at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and close at 8 p.m. or one hour after the last media event. The STS-119 media badges are in effect through landing. The media accreditation building on State Road 3 will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The last bus will depart from the news center for the Shuttle Landing Facility one hour before landing. For updated information about the landing, call 321-867-2525.
If the landing is diverted to Edwards, news media should call the Dryden public affairs office at 661-276-3449. Dryden has limited facilities available for use by previously accredited journalists.
Live updates to the NASA News Twitter feed are added throughout the shuttle mission and landing. To access the NASA News
Twitter feed and other agency Twitter feeds, visit:
For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:
For the latest information about the STS-119 mission, visit:
For information about the International Space Station, visit:
- end -

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Kudos and controversy for Mars water story / Shuttle leaves station today

NEWSALERT: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 @ 1620 GMT
The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Full coverage of Discovery's flight

Phoenix science team findings that their spacecraft discovered liquid
water on the surface of Mars sailed through their first scientific peer
review unchallenged at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in
Houston this week.

The Discovery astronauts prepared for undocking today, working through a
busy timeline of packing and experiment sample transfers from the space
station to the shuttle. After a final joint meal with their space station
colleagues, the combined crews will hold a brief farewell ceremony around
1 p.m. before closing hatches for the shuttle's departure at 3:53 p.m.

Continuing 20 years of building and maintaining the Global Positioning
System, the workhorse Delta 2 rocket Tuesday morning successfully launched
another satellite for the navigation network known the world over.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Teachers team up for today's spacewalk / Delta launch early Tuesday

     NEWSALERT: Monday, March 23, 2009 @ 1314 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Full coverage of Discovery's flight

Astronauts Ricky Arnold and Joe Acaba, both former school teachers, are
preparing to venture back outside the international space station today
for a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk. The primary objectives are to
complete the deployment of an external cargo mounting mechanism; to extend
another cargo carrier on the far side of the station's solar power truss;
to lubricate the grappler on the station's robot arm; to reconfigure a
wiring patch panel; and to reposition an equipment cart.

A Delta 2 rocket plans to make a thunderous predawn ascent out of Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday and hurl a new navigation satellite
into the Global Positioning System. Liftoff time is 4:34 a.m. EDT. Follow
the countdown and launch in our live Mission Status Center:

Discovery commander Lee Archambault maneuvered the shuttle-space station
"stack" Sunday to avoid multiple close encounters with a piece of Chinese
space junk that could have posed a threat during a third and final
spacewalk Monday. Space station commander Mike Fincke, meanwhile, made
solid progress with lab's urine recycling system and resumed testing late
in the day after resolving a snag earlier in the day.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Vernal Equinox...

Here we go again-Spring finally starts again at 11.44 this morning but lets not jump the gun too quickly as the clocks don't go forward for British Summertime (B.S.T) for another week as yet so-stay steady.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Shuttle to reach station today / Atlas rocket launch tonight from Cape Canaveral

     NEWSALERT: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 @ 1518 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Full coverage of Discovery's flight

The space shuttle Discovery is closing in on the international space
station today, on track for a docking around 5:13 p.m. EDT. Commander Lee
Archambault and his six crewmates begin final rendezvous operations
shortly after waking up.  Follow the docking in our live status center:

A massive satellite that will boost communications for U.S. military
forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will be launched into space tonight from
Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 5 rocket. Liftoff time is 9:24 p.m. EDT.
Follow the countdown in our live status center:

A quick-look at ascent imagery and other data indicates the shuttle
Discovery came through its launch and climb to space Sunday in very good
shape with no major issues or anomalies, the chairman of NASA's Mission
Management Team said late Monday. Space station controllers, meanwhile,
decided a piece of space junk they had been tracking posed no threat and
would not require an avoidance maneuver by the lab crew.

Space shuttle Discovery launched at 7:43 p.m. EDT Sunday on a mission to
complete the power grid of the international space station. This 125th
shuttle mission will deliver and install the final segment of the
station's truss backbone and unfurl two giant solar wings.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Shuttle-Space Station Flyby Alert

Space Weather News for March 16, 2009

FLYBY ALERT: In a twilight launch of stunning beauty, space shuttle Discovery left Earth last night on a two week construction mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Discovery is now approaching the ISS for docking on March 17th.  The timing of this mission favors sky watchers in North America and Europe who will be able to see the two spacecraft flying over many towns and cities in the evenings ahead.  Tonight, March 16th, is extra-special because the not-yet-docked duo will appear as distinct points of bright light flying one after the other through the twilight sky--a rare "double flyby." Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for flyby times: .

Would you like a phone call from Dr. Tony Phillips to alert you when the ISS is about to fly over your back yard?  Sign up for SpaceWeather PHONE:

Discovery Launches on Mission STS-119

Discovery Launches on Mission STS-119
Sun, 15 Mar 2009 11:00:00 -0500

Shuttle heads to the International Space Station.

Image of the Day Gallery

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Shuttle launch reset for Sunday / Station survives debris scare

     NEWSALERT: Thursday, March 12, 2009 @ 2231 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Preps for space shuttle Discovery's mission

NASA managers today reviewed plans to fix a leaking hydrogen vent line and
decided to implement an expedited repair procedure that, if all goes well,
will permit a launch attempt at 7:43 p.m. EDT Sunday to kick off a delayed
space station assembly mission.



After boarding their Soyuz capsule as part of precautionary procedures for
a possible space debris collision, the three crew members living on the
international space station have been given an all-clear. The piece of
debris was expected to pass close by the station at 12:39 p.m. EDT. NASA
says news of the close approach came too late to move the station. A few
minutes after the predicted time for the encounter, ground controllers
said the crew could enter back into the station again.

Already running a month behind schedule because of subtle hydrogen valve
problems, launch of the shuttle Discovery was called off during fueling
Wednesday when an unrelated hydrogen vent line sprang a potentially
dangerous leak. NASA will not be able to make another attempt to launch
Discovery until Sunday at the earliest, giving the astronauts just three
days or so to get off the ground before the end of the March launch

The HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken these
color-enhanced views of Deimos, the smaller of the two moons orbiting
around the Red Planet.

Loose soil piled against the northern edge of a low plateau called "Home
Plate" has blocked NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit from taking the
shortest route toward its southward destinations for the upcoming Martian
summer and following winter.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Comet Report and Upcoming Astronomical Events for March

Comet Lulin has put on a Fairly decent showing for February and March considering the amount of nights there has been with cloud cover and I have had only a few Windows of viewing opportunity to see this one although the nights that have been clear have been very good and I have had a really good look and Observation of the Comet once the skies have cleared, it is now beginning to fade at the moment and with the full Moons presence for now it is just about impossible to pick out in the night sky at this time but I think once the Moon Wanes and is out of the way a bit I may hopefully get several more viewing windows to see this Comet, (at this time of writing) the Comet is around Magnitude 6 on the Cancer Gemini Constellation Borders and its trend now is to fade as it moves away from the Earth as well as the Sun back to the icy depths of space-a good Comet to see with apparently 2 tails as well as its Green colour in professional images and pictures...
Other Comets:
13 in all Worldwide ranging from Magnitude 9.5 (144P/Kushida) to Magnitude 13.5 (Mc Naught 2006 Q1) 4 of them are Brightening so if anything happens and they become Binocular or naked eye visible I will be right on top of the news of it....
Astronomical Events for March:
8th March: Saturn was at Opposition in Leo
11th March: Saturn 6 Degrees North of the Moon
13th Uranus in Conjunction with the Sun
17th March: Galilean Moons all aligned to the West of Jupiter's disc/Antares is 0.2 Degrees South of the Moon
20th March: Vernal Equinox and the return of Spring to the Northern Hemisphere
21st March: the SPA's 56 anniversary
22nd Jupiter is 1.5 Degrees South of the Moon in the very early morning twilight sky
27th March: Venus Inferior Conjunction/Callisto Occults Ganymede
28th March: IYA2009 Spring Moonwatch
The Planets:
Mercury: is not visible in the U.K skies for this month and is in Superior Conjunction on 31st March
Venus: is still a brilliant sight in the Western evening sky but will gradually lower into the west to be consumed by the twilight in mid Month reaching inferior Conjunction on 27th March
Dwarf Planet Ceres: is a well placed evening object in Leo Minor
Jupiter: returns after March in the South Eastern morning twilight
Saturn: now at opposition in Leo and is visible all night
Uranus: in Solar Conjunction on 13th March
Neptune: Still too close to the Sun following February's Solar Conjunction
Dwarf Planet Pluto: is a morning object low in Sagittarius
Upcoming Astronomical Space Events for March:
The Space Shuttle or STS 119 should return to the ISS after resolving concerns about faulty Hydrogen valves-it will see a 4 spacewalk Mission to attach the final set of Solar Arrays and will complete the U.S part of Station built components to be taken up-launch time has been delayed for 24 Hours due to another fault found in Umbillical arm fixing into the fuel tank and leaking Hydrogen gas, I will be looking in on NASA TV: around Thursday Morning time when they may have an all clear window for launch.
10 Launches including the STS are still Scheduled for this Month with 3 of them already Launched and 1 of them failing to reach Orbit and falling into the Southern Ocean just off Antarctica (info in going to write 11/3/2009).
The Moon:
Full Moon is today 11th March at 02.38 Hours U.T (Lenten Moon/Worm Moon)
Last Quarter occurs on 18th March at 17.47 Hours U.T
New Moon is on 26th March at 16.06 Hours U.T
First Quarter Moon is on 2nd April at 14.34 Hours U.T
Lighting Up Times for March to April:
10th March: 18.23 Hours U.T
15th March: 18.32 Hours U.T
24th March: 18.48 Hours U.T
1st April: 19.02 Hours U.T
7th April 19.13 Hours U.T
15th April: 19.28 Hours U.T

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Worm Moon, Colliding Sattellite Debris and Coronal hole...

WORM MOON: Tonight's full Moon has a special name--the Worm Moon. It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in long-dormant gardens. Step outside tonight and behold the wakening landscape. "Worm moonlight" is prettier than it sounds.

COSMOS IS FALLING: The first fragments of shattered satellite Cosmos 2251 are about to reenter Earth's atmosphere. According to US Strategic Command, fragment 1993-036PX will reenter on March 12th, followed by 1993-036KW on March 28th and 1993-036MC on March 30th. These are probably centimeter-sized pieces that will disintegrate in the atmosphere, posing no threat to people on the ground.

Cosmos 2251 was shattered on Feb. 10th when it collided with another satellite, Iridium 33. Cosmos 2251 possessed about one and a half times more mass than Iridium 33 and to date appears to have produced more than twice the number of fragments. Click on the image to view a map of the debris orbits:

"As of March 7th, there were 355 catalogued fragments of Cosmos 2251 and 159 fragments of Iridium 33," says Daniel Deak who prepared the orbit-map for readers of "The Cosmos fragments are not only more numerous, but also more widely scattered, ranging in altitude from 198 km to 1689 km. For comparison, Iridium fragments are confined to altitudes between 582 km and 1262 km."

The extra scatter of Cosmos debris is not fully understood. Impact geometry could explain the spread, but no one knows exactly how the two complex vehicles struck one another. A factor of possible importance: Cosmos 2251 was internally pressurized. Once ruptured, it may have blown itself apart.

The International Space Station is in no immediate peril. "NASA has recognized from the first day [of the collision] that the risks to both ISS and STS-119 have increased," says Nick Johnson, Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris at the Johnson Space Center. "However, those increases have been relatively minor in comparison to the background environment."
CORONAL HOLE: Extreme UV telescopes onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are monitoring a dark hole in the sun's atmosphere--a coronal hole:

Coronal holes are vast regions where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows the solar wind to escape. A stream of solar wind flowing from this hole is heading for Earth now. Arctic sky watchers should be alert for Northern Lights when it arrives late on March 12th or March 13th.

Space Walk...

March 09, 2009
NASA TV to air Tuesday's Space Station Spacewalk
HOUSTON -- NASA Television will provide live coverage of the March 10 spacewalk of Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov. The pair will complete unfinished work from their December 2008 excursion outside the orbiting laboratory.

Fincke and Lonchakov will don Russian spacesuits for the spacewalk out of the Russian Pirs Docking Compartment airlock. Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus will monitor the spacewalk from inside the station. It will be the sixth spacewalk of Fincke's career and the second for Lonchakov.

NASA TV coverage of the spacewalk will begin at 11 a.m. CDT Tuesday. The spacewalk will start at approximately 11:20 a.m. and last five and a half hours.

The centerpiece of the spacewalk will be the installation of a European materials science experiment, which allows short and long-term exposure to space conditions and solar UV-radiation, on the hull of the Zvezda service module. The experiment, known as Expose, was installed on Zvezda during the December spacewalk but had to be removed and brought back inside the station because of a cable problem. That problem has been repaired.

For information about NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:

For more information about the space station and the Expedition 18 crew, visit:

                                                                                           - end -

A liquid water discovery from Mars lander / Shuttle countdown underway

     NEWSALERT: Monday, March 9, 2009 @ 1844 GMT
         The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Dine with over 25 legendary Astronauts at the
Blue Planet, Bright Night Astronaut dinner
to benefit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation
in beautiful Cocoa Beach, FL on November 7, 2009.
For details visit:

Post-mission analysis of Phoenix Mars lander data is turning up strong new
"smoking gun evidence" that the spacecraft discovered liquid water on the
Red Planet.

The seven men to fly aboard space shuttle Discovery arrived at the Kennedy
Space Center on Sunday afternoon to begin final preparations for Wednesday
night's launch. The countdown began Sunday night and is progressing




NASA's Kepler planet-finder began its mission to discover Earth-like
worlds orbiting other stars in the galaxy Friday night, successfully
launching at 10:49:57 p.m. EST aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Cape

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Kepler Mission aboard a Delta 2 Rocket...

Launch Schedule and takeoff should be at 03.49 Hours U.T this morning:

And takeoff will be shown live on Nasa TV:

I will be staying up to watch this but I think the Moon is drowning out Comet Lulin...

The Keplar Mission...

Seeking out new worlds: Kepler ready to launch
Posted: March 5, 2009

Credit: NASA

In a galaxy of 200 billion or more stars, one could argue planets like
Earth - orbiting suitable stars in habitable "Goldilocks" zones where
water exists in liquid form and the temperature is not too hot or too
cold - must be common. After all, if only a tiny fraction of the Milky
Way's stars harbor such planets, one could still expect untold
thousands, if not millions, of potentially habitable worlds. And with
numbers like that, it's not at all unreasonable to suppose life arose
on at least some of them. Extending that argument to the countless
galaxies populating the observable universe, one could easily assume
the cosmos must be teeming with life.

But statistics alone prove nothing about how solar systems might be
constructed. While more than 340 planets have been detected orbiting
other stars, the limitations of Earth-based observations mean, with a
few exceptions, only huge, Jupiter-class gas giants have been
identified to date, many of them orbiting hellishly close to their
parent stars.

Whether such seemingly strange solar system architectures are common
or whether they are simply easier to detect using current methods, is
not yet clear. Whether Earth-like planets are common or rare is simply
unknown. But it is a question with profound implications, one at the
heart of any debate about the possibility of life elsewhere in the

NASA plans to take a major step toward answering that question, one
way or the other, with launch of a Delta 2 rocket Friday carrying a
sophisticated solar-powered satellite called Kepler that is equipped
with one of the most powerful digital cameras ever built for space.
The $591 million mission is scheduled for liftoff from the Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:49:57 p.m. EST.

"To this point in time, if you asked me are there other earth's out
there, I'd say absolutely, there have to be, we can't be so special,"
said NASA science chief Ed Weiler. "But if you ask me to prove it, I

The Kepler mission "very possibly could tell us that earths are very,
very common, that we have lots of neighbors out there. Or, it could
tell us that earth's are really, really, really rare, perhaps we're
the only Earth," Weiler said. "I think that would be a very bad answer
because I for one don't want to live in an empty universe where we're
the best there is! That's a scary thought to many of us. But Kepler
will tell us that answer and it will tell us soon."

Trailing the Earth in its orbit around the sun, the Kepler spacecraft
will aim a 95-megapixel camera on a patch of sky the size of an
out-stretched hand that contains more than 4.5 million detectable
stars. Of that total, the science team has picked some 300,000 that
are of the right age, composition and brightness to host Earth-like
planets. Over the life of the mission, more than 100,000 of those will
be actively monitored by Kepler.

Kepler during launch preps in Florida. Credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now

The spacecraft's camera will not take pictures like other space
telescopes, rather it will act as a photometer and continually monitor
the brightness of candidate stars in its wide field of view and the
slight dimming that will result if planets happen to pass in front.

By studying subtle changes in brightness from such planetary transits
- comparable to watching a flea creep across a car's headlight at
night - and the timing of repeated cycles, computer analysis can
ferret out potential Earth-like worlds in habitable-zone orbits.

The probability of finding sun-like stars with Earth-like planets in
orbits similar to ours - and aligned so that Kepler can "see" them -
is about one-half of 1 percent. Given the sample size, however, that
still leaves hundreds of potential discoveries.

But it will take three-and-a-half years of around-the-clock
observations to capture the repeated cycles needed to confirm
detection of an Earth-like world.

"Kepler is designed to find hundreds of Earth-size planets, if such
planets are common around stars, dozen of these planets, if they are
in the habitable zone," said William Borucki, Kepler principal
investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"If we find that many, it certainly will mean that life may well be
common throughout our galaxy because there's an opportunity for life
to have a place to evolve. If, on the other hand, we don't find any,
that will be another profound discovery. It will mean that Earths must
be very rare, we might be the only life in our Universe. In fact, it
will mean there will be no Star Trek."

But he quickly added: "We are hoping to find hundreds, of course. ...
Although Kepler will not find E.T., it is hoping to find E.T.'s home."

Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA headquarters in
Washington, described Kepler as "our planetary census taker."

"We're going to get the full sweep of the types of planets in
different types of orbits around different types of stars through a
big cross-section of our galaxy," he said. "It is going to shape the
way that we formulate our plans for future missions on our quest to
find Earth-like planets and study their atmospheres and look for the
bio-markers like the types of molecules in our atmosphere that may
indicate life."

Said Michael Bicay, director of science at the Ames Research Center:
"The ramifications of the results of this mission, whatever those
results are, are going to be significant in our understanding of the
frequency of Earth-size planets in the local galaxy and the habitable

Where Kepler will look. Credit: NASA
See larger image here

Named in honor of Johannes Kepler, the 17th century Copernican
astronomer who formulated the laws of planetary motion, NASA's newest
science satellite weighs 2,320 pounds and measures 15.3 feet from top
to bottom. It is equipped with four solar panels capable of generating
1,100 watts of power, a radiation-hardened PowerPC flight computer and
a Ka-band communications link to relay science data back to Earth. The
spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo.

Following launch from Complex 17B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Kepler will pass the moon's orbit in just two days as it
heads into a 371-day orbit around the sun, separating slowly from
Earth. It will aim itself at a patch of sky near the left wing of
Cygnus the Swan, midway between the stars Deneb and Vega.

And then, Kepler will simply stare at the same stars for three-and-a-half years.

The science team will check in twice a week to check the spacecraft's
health and upload commands. Once a month, Kepler will look away from
its target area, point is high-gain antenna toward Earth and downlink
stored data. Every three months, the spacecraft will rotate 90-degrees
around its long axis to keep its fixed solar panels face on to the sun
and its radiator pointed toward deep space.

Kepler's single science instrument is built around a 55-inch mirror
and a 37-inch corrector plate that represents a modified Schmidt
telescope design. Light from the primary mirror comes to a focus on an
assembly of charge coupled devices, or CCDs, similar in operation to
the chips used in commercial video and still cameras.

But unlike commercial cameras, Kepler's Focal Plane Array is made up
of 42 CCDs, each one measuring 2.32 inches by 1.1 inches and
containing 2,200 by 1,024 picture elements, or pixels, for a total of
95 million pixels. The focal plane will be maintained at minus 121
degrees Fahrenheit to improve sensitivity and minimize electrical
"noise" in the system. Special lenses will smear out the starlight
slightly to make slight changes in brightness more easily detectable.

A technician completes the installation of CCD modules into the focal
plane assembly. Credit: Ball Aerospace

"An Earth-like planet passing in front of a sun-like star is going to
cause the brightness of that star to dim by only 1 part per 10,000,"
said Natalie Batalha, a Kepler co-investigator at San Jose State
University. "That's like looking at a headlight from a great distance
and trying to sense the brightness change when a flea crawls across
the surface. But the Kepler instrument is designed to detect such
small changes in brightness."

Kepler will be aimed at the same spot in the sky, measuring 10 degrees
by 10 degrees, for the life of the mission, actively observing more
than 100,000 candidate stars. In contrast, the moon's apparent angular
diameter is 0.5 degrees. The Hubble Space Telescope focuses on areas
the size of a rice grain held at arm's length. A planetary transit
will cause the light from a target star to dim, or wink, on timescales
of one to 12 hours, depending on the type of star and the size of the
planet's orbit. For a planet like Earth passing in front of a star
like the sun, the star's light would dim by just 84 parts per million,
or less than 1/100th of 1 percent.

Kepler is capable of detecting Earth-like planets around stars ranging
from 600 to 3,000 light years away.

The Kepler team is particularly interested in planets that may orbit
within a star's habitable zone, the region around a star where water
on a planet can exist as a liquid. Habitable zones vary in location
depending on a star's size and brilliance. By timing changes in a
star's light as a transit occurs, scientists can figure out the size
of a presumed planet's orbit and thus whether it falls in that star's
habitable zone.

"The habitable zone is where we think water will be," Borucki said.
"If you can find liquid water on the surface, we think we may very
well find life there. So that zone is not too close to the star,
because it's too hot and the water boils. Not too far away where the
water's condensed and ice-covered, a planet covered with glaciers.
It's the goldilocks zone, not too hot, not too cold, just right for

Brief changes in a star's light output imply an extremely hot planet
orbiting close to its parent. Longer transits imply planets at greater

"We are interested in finding planets that are not too hot, not too
cold, but just right," Borucki said.

An artist's concept of a planet passing in front of its parent star.
Credit: NASA

In its first year of operation, Kepler is expected to discover
Jupiter-class super planets orbiting close to their parent stars with
periods of just a few days. The Kepler team requires multiple transits
to make sure the photometer is not seeing some other phenomenon, like
the passage of an unseen companion star or a major disturbance in the
target star's appearance. Ground-based astronomers then will be asked
to attempt confirmation and only then will results be announced.

"After several months of data processing and confirmation by
ground-based telescopes, scientists hope to announce their first
results approximately in December 2009 at NASA Headquarters ... about
giant planets found in short-period orbits," NASA said in its Kepler
press kit.

"Discovery of Earth-size planets in Earth-like orbits requires nearly
the full lifetime of the 3.5-year mission, although in some cases
three transits are seen in just a little more than two years. Other
results that require the full 3.5 years of data are: Planets as small
as Mars in short period orbits, which utilizes the addition of dozens
or more transits to be detectable; and the detection of giant-inner
planets that do not transit the star, but do periodically modulate the
apparent brightness due to reflected light from the planet."

The first announcement of any Earth-like planets orbiting stars like
the sun is not expected before December 2012.

"What I'm hoping, expecting to see as a community scientist is in the
first six months to a year, the big, massive hot Jupiter's are going
to roll off the Kepler assembly line," said Debra Fischer, astronomy
professor at San Francisco State University and a veteran exoplanet
observer. "This is exciting because these are bizarre planets. We
don't really understand the statistics, how they form, how they moved
into their current position and just the sheer number of these objects
that Kepler will find is going to help us learn a lot about the

"And then the next class of planets I think will roll out will be
perhaps the hot Neptune's," she said. "Significantly smaller than
Jupiter, these objects are thought to exist around something like 30
percent of stars like our sun and low-mass stars. And if that is
correct, then Kepler should see quite a few of these very large,
something like 17 times the mass of the Earth, orbiting." "And then
the hardest detection and by far the most exciting is going to be the
detection of bona fide Earths - small, rocky planets, Earth-size

While such planets are often thought of as terrestrial "rocky" worlds,
"I think that the science fiction writers are going to be challenged
to imagine the diversity that we could expect to find, even in this
type of planets," Fischer said. "They may not be rocky worlds, they
may be water worlds without plate tectonics that force the landmass up
above the oceans. These could be worlds that, in fact, have life like
our oceans, OK? But perhaps not sending radio signals to us."

© 2009 Spaceflight Now Inc.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Comet Lulin...

02.00 Hours U.T 5/3/2009:
Now looking at Comet Lulin just underneath M44 Praesepe and its small diffuse tail pointing away to the South South West and its Nebulous Coma Occulting a small star (possibly Magnitude 8) in the Constellation of cancer with the just past first quarter bright Moon almost outshining it, if it wasn't for M44 Praesepe I don't think I would have found this Comet, quite difficult to pick out due to the brightness of Moonlight and a hunch I have that it has faded slightly as predicted and will probably continue to do so now it is moving away from the Earth as well as the Sun.....

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Kepler poised for launch / NASA moves up Discovery's launch

      NEWSALERT: Thursday, March 5, 2009 @ 2058 GMT
          The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Train like an Astronaut, dine with Apollo 13 Astronauts Jim Lovell
and Fred Haise, obtain Astronaut autographs and mingle with over 25
hero Astronauts all at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's
Astronaut Autograph & Memorabilia Show November 7-8, 2009.
Visit: for details!  +++

All systems are "go" for Friday night's blastoff of the Delta 2 rocket
from Cape Canaveral carrying Kepler, a planet-finding machine that look
for other Earth-size worlds around stars in the galaxy.

Spaceflight Now is joining forces with veteran space broadcasters Miles
O'Brien and David Waters to provide unrivaled video coverage of space
shuttle Discovery's next mission, scheduled for launch on Wednesday, March

Shuttle managers met Wednesday to review tests and inspections of suspect
hydrogen flow control valves and agreed enough progress had been made to
justify another flight readiness review Friday and a March 11 target
launch date for the shuttle Discovery's delayed space station assembly

The oldest isolated pulsar ever detected in X-rays has been found with
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This very old and exotic object turns
out to be surprisingly active.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has fully recovered from an unexpected
computer re-set last week and resumed its scientific investigation of

The team operating NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter plans a procedure next week
to address a long-known, potential vulnerability of accumulated memory

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Pictures from Lyra Members...

John Perrings picture of the Lunar Craters with the Terminator just beside them: (Enhanced)
Ron Larters picture of Comet Lulin: (Enhanced)

Monday, 2 March 2009

Comet Lulin-my 21st well Observed Comet Since 1996...

So pleased-finally caught up with Comet Lulin on Saturday night from my back garden with my 20X100 big mounted Binoculars-a reasonably dry night with slight dampness falling and magnitude +3 to +4 stars could be seen with the naked eye-certainly not brilliantly clear although no Moon.
Looking toward the front part of the Constellation of Leo not far from Alpha Leo (Regulus) I found the Comet and it looked somewhat fuzzy in appearance and not as condensed as other Comas I have seen on other Comets-was actually quite Nebulous looking with possible jets spewing out material in front and being pushed away sharply from the Comets Nucleus to make a small tail like effect streaming away toward Regulus and Leo.
In my opinion its certainly not an odd or strangely exceptional Comet as everyone has said it is-it looks to me like several Comets I have seen over the past years other than its Antitail.
It was difficult to see and pick out the other tail (or Antitail) through my Binoculars but I'm sure it was there-could have been the material that I see spewing out in jets from the front of the Comet perhaps causing this Antitail-it was a fairly cold evening and the heat from my face and breath kept misting up the ocular lenses that I was looking through although I had thoroughly climatised my equipment in my garden shed all night as I thought I may have seen it the following Evening, all in all it was a good nights viewing and I got a good view of the Comet and if it is cloudy next week I don't think I'll be disappointed as for the good viewing window I got of it tonight-very pleased.
I would say the Comet is roughly around Magnitude 4 to 5 in brightness although its trend is to fade now over the coming weeks...
I think I'm averaging 2 well Observed Comets a year roughly-I hope that's good for an Amateur Comet watcher...


Comets I have seen and Observed regularly since I started Astronomy and Skywatching back in 1996:
COMET LINEAR [C/1999 S4] (Disintegrated) 
COMET SWAN [C/2002 O6]
COMET HOENIG [C/2002 04]
COMET NEAT [C/2002 V1]
COMET SWAN [C/2006 M4]