Tag Archives: NASA

Astronauts make emergency landing after rocket failure

An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut made an emergency landing in Kazakhstan on Thursday after their Soyuz booster rocket failed shortly after liftoff on a trip to the International Space Station.

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Astronomers discover 7 Earth-sized planets

CNN’s Rosemary Church reports on NASA’s announcement that scientists have found a cluster of Earth-like planets orbiting a star 40 light-years away.

 

By Ashley Strickland, CNN
Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.
The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.
If TRAPPIST-1 sounds familiar, that’s because these researchers announced the discovery of three initial planets orbiting the same star in May. The new research increased that number to seven planets total.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
And as we’ve learned from studying and discovering exoplanets before, where there is one, there are more, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager and other researchers are encouraged by the discovery of this system because it improves our chances of finding another habitable planet, like Earth, in the future, by knowing where to look.
What we know
The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun. This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
Starting closest to the star and moving out, the planets have respective orbits from one and a half to nearly 13 Earth days. The orbit of the farthest planet is still unknown.
Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close. It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
Based on preliminary climate modeling, the researchers believe that the three planets closest to the star may be too warm to support liquid water, while the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is probably too distant and cold to support water on the surface. But further observation is needed to know for sure.
How the discovery was made
TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarves.
The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness. The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting. The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and masses of the planets.
What’s next
Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
“If we learn something now, it can determine if we looked in the right place,” Gillon said.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe. It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.
The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

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Former Astronaut and Bellwood Native dies

By Jennifer Keiper, WLS-AM 890 News
(CHICAGO) An astronaut, who’s name is on a west suburban space center, has died.

Eugene Cernan, Commander of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, was the last person to walk on the moon. That was in 1972.

Cernan died in Texas on Monday following ongoing health issues. He was 82. His family says his passion for lunar exploration never waned and he encouraged the nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the moon.

Cernan grew up in west suburban Bellwood and graduated from Proviso East High School and Purdue University. Triton College in west suburban River Grove named it’s Earth and Space Center after him.

A documentary about Cernan’s life, “The Last Man on the Moon” was released in 2016.

 

© WLS-AM 890 News

Big John Howell Show Notes 4-29-16

On the heels of the Dennis Hastert case, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to eliminate the statute of limitations for people accused of molesting children. Because he is protected by statute of limitations, Hastert can never be charged with sex abuse and many of the victims will never get justice because their abusers are protected by the same law. Madigan joined John to talk about the proposed change to the law, and also weighed in on regulation of Daily Fantasy Sports websites in Illinois. (Listen here)

Barbara Blaine the founder and President of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) joined John with reaction to the proposal to eliminate the statute of limitations for people accused of molesting children. (Listen here)

Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday that if a bipartisan budget agreement can’t be reached by the end of May, he’d be willing to pay for a special legislative session out of his own pocket to continue negotiations. Rauner added that lawmakers must stay persistent in achieving long-term solutions that consider new forms of revenue and reforms from his “turnaround agenda” to create a balanced budget.

John Boehner left no doubt he’s not a fan of fellow Republican Ted Cruz, leaping off the sidelines of the presidential race to unleash a stunning verbal lashing of the Texas senator, reportedly calling him “Lucifer in the flesh” and a “miserable son of a bitch.” He reportedly said he’s played golf with front-runner Donald Trump, describing them as “texting buddies,” and said his relationship with Ohio Gov. John Kasich “requires more effort” but they’re friends.

SpaceX has announced a new plan to land a spacecraft on Mars. They would send one of their new Dragon 2.0 spacecrafts to Mars in 2018. It would be an unmanned flight, but still the biggest thing ever landed on the Red Planet and would be a dress rehearsal for future manned flights. Tom Jones joined John to talk about the new space project, Tom is a former NASA Astronaut and author of the new book “Ask The Astronaut.” (Listen here)

The Chicago Republican Party has taken down their illegal sign. It wasn’t because it was deemed illegal and they decided to comply with the long arm of the law. It was because a vandal tore the sign. Chris Cleveland says he’ll replace the sign, at a cost of $1500, which is three times the cost of getting it permitted.

In addition to the NFL Draft, next week Chicago is also hosting the James Beard Awards. Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel joined John with a preview. (Listen here)

If you’re looking for something other than the NFL Draft to do this weekend, BaconFest is going on at the UIC Forum this weekend. Seth Zurer one of the co-founders of BaconFest joined John with a preview. (Listen here)

Chicago-born man to be inducted into Astronaut Hall of Fame

       John H. Grunsfeld, Ph.D / photo from NASA website

(CHICAGO) A retired NASA astronaut who was born in Chicago and worked on the Hubble Telescope will be inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May, according to a statement from the Kennedy Space Center.

John H. Grunsfeld, Ph.D, was born in Chicago and graduated from Highland Park High School in the northern suburb in 1976, according to his astronaut bio on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website.

Grunsfeld then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1980; then attended the University of Chicago, where he received a master of science degree and a doctor of philosophy degree in physics, according to NASA.

He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1992 and logged more than 58 days in space on five separate flights, according to the statement. On his last three missions, Grunsfeld worked to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Grunsfeld, who is married with two children, retired from NASA in December 2009 to become the Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, according to the statement.

He rejoined NASA in 2012 and is currently the Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. His father still lives in Highland Park.

Grunsfeld, along with Steven Lindsey, Kent Rominger, and M. Rhea Seddon, M.D., will be inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30.

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