Feb 10

Asteroid can become visible to naked-eye on February 17th

Source: Universe Today

Asteroid Vesta as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/U of Md./STSci/Cornell/SWRI/UCLA

An asteroid could be visible with binoculars, or even the naked eye on Wednesday, February 17, 2010. No, it's not coming close to Earth, although this second most massive object in the asteroid belt will be at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, about 211,980,000 kilometers (131,700,000 miles) away. Asteroid Vesta – one of the asteroids that the Dawn spacecraft will visit – will be at opposition on Wednesday, meaning it is opposite the sun as seen from Earth, and is closest to us. Vesta is expected to shine at magnitude 6.1, and that brightness should make it visible for those with clear skies and a telescope, but perhaps even those blessed with excellent vision and little or no light pollution. Vesta will be visible in the eastern sky in the constellation Leo, and will continue to be visible — although less so — in the coming months. (read more)

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Feb 10

Dark Matter Detective Arrives At ESTEC

Source: ESA

The AMS instrument's position on the ISS.
Credits: CERN et Universite de Geneve

One of the most exciting scientific instruments ever built, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), arrived at ESA's Test Centre in the Netherlands for testing before being launched on the Space Shuttle to the ISS this July.

The quest for the origins of the Universe is about to take a step further in the Large Space Simulator (LSS) at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, under responsibility of Agency's Directorate of Human Spaceflight.

The LSS is used to test satellites and spacecraft before they are sent to space and has seen all kinds of space hardware, but the AMS detector is still very special. Not only is it the biggest scientific instrument to be installed on the International Space Station (ISS), but also it is the first magnetic spectrometer to be flown in space, and the largest cryogenically cooled superconducting magnet ever used in space.

AMS will help scientists to understand better the fundamental issues on the origin and structure of the Universe by observing 'antimatter' and 'dark matter'. As a byproduct, AMS will gather a lot of other information from cosmic radiation sources such as stars and galaxies millions of light years from our home galaxy. Not only astronomers, but also particle physicists are waiting for AMS data.

The AMS project is led by Nobel laureate Samuel Ting, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and involves an international team composed of 56 institutes from 16 countries. ESA is a partner in the AMS collaboration through the Directorate of Human Spaceflight. The first version of the experiment, AMS-01, was flown in June 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and, after promising results, the bigger and more capable version was accepted to be flown on the ISS.(read more)

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