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The Last Month in Astronomy


DEC-11-2008 • JWST Testing Cool • The first of the 18 segments that form the mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope is ready for cryogenic testing. The testing will involve temperatures down to -414 degrees F.

DEC-09-2008 • CO2 found • The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide on an extrasolar planet. The planet, HD 189733b, is way too hot to harbor life. However, the detection proves that the CO2 detection is possible. If the same technique works on a more-Earth like planet, it may indicate organic processes are at work. The CO2 is found using spectrum analysis in the near infrared range. Previous research has found H2O and methane in the atmosphere of the same planet.

DEC-04-2008 • Mars Science Lab Delayed • The expected 2009 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory is cancelled. The next time the lab can be launched is in late 2011. The 2009 date had to be forfeited because the lab will not be finished and tested in time to make the October launch. The lab will be 10 times as massive as the current Mars rover and be able to handle rougher terrain and move at faster speeds.

NOV-30-2008 • STS-126 Lands • The Shuttle Endeavour landed in California on November 30. The shuttle was later flown back to the Kennedy Space Center at a cost of $1.8 million. However, there were no extra fees for luggage. The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch Feb. 12 to deliver the last set of solar panels to the ISS. Then, on May 12, Atlantis is scheduled to complete the Hubble repairs.

NOV-29-2008 • Chandrayaan-1 Starts • The Indian Space Research Organization’s lunar orbiter has started making observations. It released a proble that impacted near the south pole on November 14. Two different spectrometers were turned on in late November. More instruments will be turned on during December.

NOV-26-2008 • Glycolaldehyde-ness • A sugar molecule, thought to be critical in the origin of life, has been detected in a part of the galaxy where habitable planets are likely. Previously, the glycolaldehyde molecule has only been detected near the center of the galaxy, a bad neighborhood for supporting life. The detection was made using a radio telescope in France called IRAM. The researchers are from the University College London and is funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

NOV-18-2008 • Space-based Internet Tested • A new Internet-like network has been developed for use in space. Rather than use TCP/IP, the new network uses DTN, Disruption-Tolerant Network protocol. The packets of information are stored unless they can be successfully transmitted to the next node. This new protocol was developed by a partnership between NASA and Vint Cerf, a VP at Google.

NOV-14-2008 • Electrons and Magnetars • A magnetar is a neutron star. A neutron star is a remnant of a supernova, a star so dense that a teaspoon of it would weigh a hundred million tons. Such a star becomes a magnetar when it has a strong magnetic field that is starts to twist the crust of the star. Research using the XMM-Newton and Integral spacecraft has found evidence of large electron currents around these magnetars. This means that there is now a link between an observed phenomenon (the high magnetic field) and a physical processes (the electron current).


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