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NASA Astronaut Christina Koch Just Officially Shattered a New Spaceflight Record – ScienceAlert

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NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth safely on Thursday after shattering the spaceflight record for female astronauts with a stay of almost 11 months aboard the International Space Station.

Koch touched down at 09:12 GMT on the Kazakh steppe after 328 days in space, along with Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency.

Koch was shown seated and smiling broadly after being extracted from the Soyuz descent module in the Roscosmos space agency’s video footage from the landing site.

“I am so overwhelmed and happy right now,” said Koch, who blasted off on 14 March last year.

Parmitano pumped his fists in the air after being lifted into his chair while Skvortsov was shown eating an apple.

Local Kazakhs on horseback were among those to witness the capsule landing in the snow-covered steppe as support crews gathered around the three astronauts, NASA commentator Rob Navias said.

“I’ve never seen this,” Navias exclaimed, reporting that the men stopped to chat with engineering personnel.

Koch, a 41-year-old Michigan-born engineer, on 28 December last year beat the previous record for a single spaceflight by a woman of 289 days, set by NASA veteran Peggy Whitson in 2016-17.

Koch called three-time flyer Whitson, now 60, “a heroine of mine” and a “mentor” in the space programme after she surpassed the record.

She also spoke of her desire to “inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Koch also made history as one half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk along with NASA counterpart Jessica Meir – her classmate from NASA training – in October last year.

The spacewalk was initially postponed because the space station did not have two suits of the right size, leading to allegations of sexism.

Ahead of the three-and-a-half hour journey back to Earth, Koch told NBC on Tuesday that she would “miss microgravity”.

“It’s really fun to be in a place where you can just bounce around between the ceiling and the floor whenever you want,” she said, smiling as she twisted her body around the ISS.

She will now head to NASA headquarters in Houston, via the Kazakh city of Karaganda and Cologne in Germany, where she will undergo medical testing.

Koch’s medical data will be especially valuable to NASA scientists as the agency draws up plans for a long-duration manned mission to Mars.

‘Make space for women’

Koch’s return comes after an advert for a skincare brand ran during an intermission in the American football Super Bowl with a call to “make space for women”.

The advert featured NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and saw the company promise to donate up to US$500,000 to the non-profit Women Who Code, which works with young women seeking careers in tech and scientific fields.

The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova whose spaceflight in 1963 is still the only solo mission carried out by a woman.

Russia has sent only one woman to the ISS since expeditions began in 2000 – Yelena Serova whose mission launched in 2014.

Both Tereshkova and Serova are now lawmakers in the Russian parliament, where they represent the ruling United Russia party.

Unlike Koch, whose ISS stay was extended, Parmitano and Skvortsov were rounding off regular half-year missions.

Parmitano handed over command of the ISS to Roscosmos’s Oleg Skripochka on Tuesday.

The 43-year-old Italian posted regular shots of the Earth while aboard, highlighting the plight of the Amazon rainforest and describing the Alps as “like a spinal column, never bending to time”.

Four male cosmonauts have spent a year or longer in space as part of a single mission with Russian Valery Polyakov’s 437 days the overall record.

Scott Kelly holds the record for a NASA astronaut, posting 340 days at the ISS before he returned home in 2016.

© Agence France-Presse

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STEVE appears over Canada during 'surprise' solar storm – Livescience.com

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In the dark of Sunday night and Monday morning (Aug. 7 and 8), a surprise solar storm slammed into Earth, showering our planet in a rapid stream of charged particles from the sun. The resulting clash of solar and terrestrial particles in Earth‘s atmosphere caused stunning auroras to appear at much lower latitudes than usual — and, in southern Canada, triggered a surprise cameo from the mysterious sky phenomenon known as STEVE.

Alan Dyer, an astronomy writer and photographer based in southern Alberta, Canada, caught the wispy ribbons of green and violet light on camera as they shot through the sky.

“STEVE lasted about 40 minutes, appearing as the … aurora to the north subsided,” Dyer wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) on Aug. 8. “STEVE was ‘discovered’ here so he likes appearing here more than anywhere else!”

Related: Earliest documented aurora found in ancient Chinese text

As Dyer noted, the strange sky glow called STEVE was first described by citizen scientists and aurora hunters in northern Canada in 2017. STEVE is typically composed of an enormous ribbon of purplish light, which can hang in the sky for an hour or more, accompanied by a “picket fence” of green light that usually disappears within a few minutes. 

The glowing river of light may look like an aurora, but it’s actually a unique phenomenon that was considered “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery. Today, scientists have a slightly better idea of what’s going on. 

STEVE (short for “strong thermal velocity enhancement”) is a long, thin line of hot gas that slices through the sky for hundreds of miles. The hot air inside STEVE can blaze at more than 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) and move roughly 500 times faster than the air on each side of it, satellite observations have shown.

Whereas the northern lights occur when charged solar particles bash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, STEVE appears much lower in the sky, in a region called the subauroral zone. That likely means solar particles aren’t directly responsible for STEVE, Live Science previously reported. However, STEVE almost always appears during solar storms like Sunday’s, showing up after the northern lights have already begun to fade.

One hypothesis suggests that STEVE is the result of a sudden burst of thermal and kinetic energy in the subauroral zone, somehow triggered by the clash of charged particles higher in the atmosphere during aurora-inducing solar storms. However, more research is needed to uncover the true secrets of STEVE. In the meantime, we can simply bask in its otherworldly glow and wave back at its twinkling green fingers.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Perseid meteor shower: when to catch it in Manitoba | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg

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The peak of a spectacular space light show is expected to happen by the end of the week.

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to be at its best and brightest the night of Aug. 12 going into the morning of Aug. 13.

Scott Young, an astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, said this is an annual event that will produce dozens of shooting stars throughout the night.

“Every meteor is a piece of dust from outer space that is crashing into the earth at tremendous speed and basically vaporizing in a poof and a flash of light, and that it is what we see as a meteor,” he said. “On certain nights of the year, the earth in its orbit around the sun actually goes through a cloud of dust, sort of like an interplanetary dust bunny, essentially, and all that dust hits on the same night … and so we are basically crashing through the dust left behind by a comet.”

The cloud of dust was left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed by the earth in 1992. Since then, the meteor shower has reached its peak between Aug. 11 and 13.

For those who are looking to enjoy the meteor show, Young suggests people get away from city lights, especially this year as the shower also coincides with a full moon.

“The moon can wash out those fainter meteors, and also if you are in the city, city lights will also wash out those fainter meteors. If you want to see the best show, you want to go late Friday after midnight, into the early morning hours of Saturday.”

If people can’t see the shower that night, Young says not to worry as the Perseid meteor shower is already happening right now and will continue to the end of August. As long as people are away from bright lights, Young says they should be able to see some shooting stars.

He recommends going to places like Birds Hill Provincial Park to enjoy the shower, but noted if people can find a place that is away from direct light, whether that be a park within the City of Winnipeg, or even a person’s backyard, he suggests people will be able to see something.

Once the meteor shower is over, however, Young does have a cautionary tale to share.

“We get dozens calls of people seeing an interesting rock on the ground and thinking that they’ve found a meteorite. There are no meteorites that will fall and actually land on the ground from this shower. These are little pieces of dust and they completely vaporize in the atmosphere. You might find meteorites out there, but they are very, very rare and so don’t get all excited about every rock that you find after this. The odds are it’s a meteor-wrong and not a meteorite.”

Young said weather-permitting, the Manitoba Museum will livestream the shower on its social media channels.

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured two festive-looking nebulas – Tech Explorist

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The image shows NGC 248, about 60 light-years long and 20 light-years wide. They are two nebulas, situated to appear as one. The nebulas, together, are called NGC 248.

Initially discovered in 1834 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, NGC 248 resides in the Small Magellanic Cloud, located approximately 200,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Tucana.

Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy. The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE).

The dwarf satellite galaxy contains several brilliant hydrogen nebulas, including NGC 248. Intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen in each nebula, causing them to glow red.

The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Karin Sandstrom of the University of California, San Diego, said“The Small Magellanic Cloud has between a fifth and a tenth of the amount of heavy elements that the Milky Way does. Because it is so close, astronomers can study its dust in great detail and learn about what dust was like earlier in the history of the universe.”

“It is important for understanding the history of our galaxy, too. Most of the star formation happened earlier in the universe, at a time when there was a much lower percentage of heavy elements than there is now. Dust is a critical part of how a galaxy works, how it forms stars.”

The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE). The data used in this image were taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in September 2015.

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