Rockets, Tatooine and a Super Earth

A busy few days is a good enough phrase to sum up the last few days. Not only did NASA announce its new heavy lift launcher, details of which can be found here but they also managed to lose track of a satellite.

Launched from Discovery back in 1991 the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) platform was designed to carry out observations of the Earths atmosphere, in particular the Ozone layer. Decommissioned in 2005 the Sattelite has been causing a nuisance to other objects including the International Space Station, which was forced to make an object avoidance maneuver in October last year.

UARS is expected to fall out of Orbit on September 24 according to NASA and upto 25 pieces may land, and here’s the best bit, over a 400-500km strip anywhere within 57°N and 57°S of the Equator. So most of the populated planet. Although worrying NASA have said the probabilityof being crushed under spacejunk is a cool 1 in 3,200.

Roscosmos announced that the next ferry flight to the ISS will take place on or around November 14.  The news came after investigators found the fault that caused the Progress supply craft to crash into Siberia. According to one Roscosmos spokesman; “Members of the emergency commission have determined the cause of the failure of the Soyuz carrier rocket’s third stage engine. It is a malfunction in the engine’s gas generator.”

Kepler keeps being the gift that keeps on Giving with the discovery of the “Tatooine” planet. This large saturn like planet is the first discovered to orbit a binary system. That is a system with two suns instead of one, hence Tatooine.

Best take a sweater

However unlike the fictional planet Luke would have a hard time wistfully staring at the binary sunset, Kepler 16b is cold enough to freeze the tongue off a Hutt lord. A gas giant the temperature is a nippy -70 to -100 F.

The two stars, about 200 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, circle each other every 41 days. One star is small, red and dim, throwing off just 20 percent of the light of our sun. The other star, bigger and orange, generates about 70 percent of the light of our sun. Kepler 16B circles them both, taking 229 days to complete an orbit. As it does, it passes in front of each star, blocking a small fraction of their light.

Another 50 planets were added to the list on Monday including one “super Earth.”

The planet, dubbed HD85512b, circles an orange star somewhat smaller and cooler than our sun about 36 light-years away. The star, HD85512, is visible in the southern sky in the constellation Vela.

The newly found planet circles this star every 59 days, putting it at the edge of the “habitable zone” where water could exist if atmospheric conditions were right. No doubt this planet will be a target for the new Extremely Large Telescope when it comes online early next decade.

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