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SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aborts Starlink satellite constellation launch at last second – Space.com

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX aborted the launch of 60 new Starlink satellites at the last second today (March 15) due to an engine power issue with the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s onboard computer triggered an abort just before a scheduled 9:22 a.m. EDT (1322 GMT) liftoff after detecting an issue with one of its nine Merlin 1D engines.

“Standing down today; standard auto-abort triggered due to out of family data during engine power check. Will announce next launch date opportunity once confirmed on the Range,” SpaceX tweeted shortly after the abort

 The Falcon 9 first stage for this launch is a veteran SpaceX booster. The rocket has launched four flights for SpaceX. Its fifth launch for the Starlink mission would make it SpaceX’s first to fly five times.

Video: Watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 abort during Starlink 5 launch attempt 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites aborts its launch at the last second at Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 15, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The abort, coupled with an instantaneous launch window, meant that SpaceX engineers would not have time to try again today. The company is working with the U.S. Air Force and the Eastern Range, which oversee launches from Florida’s Space Coast, to determine the next available launch date. 

It was a foggy morning here on the Space Coast, but the skies cleared as the minutes ticked away during the countdown. The sun was shining, and everything was progressing nominally. At the T-0 mark, the final second, the Falcon 9’s engines began to ramp up but quickly shut down as the abort automatically triggered. 

The rocket just wasn’t ready to fly. 

“We had a condition regarding engine power that caused us to abort today’s launch,” Michael Andrews, a SpaceX supply chain manager, said during launch commentary. “Prior to that the countdown was proceeding normally.”

“Keep in mind, the purpose of the countdown is to help us catch potential issues prior to flight,” Andrews added.

The Falcon 9 is equipped with safety features that can trigger an on pad abort like we saw today, and can even abort during flight if it detects an anomaly.  

“There are a thousand ways a launch can go wrong, but only one way the launch can go right,” Andrews said. “Given that, we are overly cautious on the ground, and if the team sees anything that looks even slightly off, we’ll stop the countdown.” 

SpaceX test fires each of its rockets before launch. This allows the engineers to make sure the systems are functioning as expected. That routine test, called a static fire test, typically happens a couple of days prior to launch. For this mission, it was completed on Friday afternoon (March 13). 

By all indications, the rocket was ready to go and cleared for flight. However, that doesn’t mean that issues cannot creep up on the day of launch. If today’s attempt featured a longer launch window, SpaceX engineers may have been able to troubleshoot the issue and recycle the countdown. 

But SpaceX will have to wait for a new launch date and try again. In the meantime, engineers will continue to review the data and prepare the rocket for its next launch attempt. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Hubble telescope discovers Galaxy-ripping quasar tsunamis in space – The Next Web

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Quasar tsunamis discovered by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope erupt in the most energetic outflows of material ever seen. This outpouring of energy wrecks havoc with galaxies in which these enigmatic objects reside, altering the evolution of these families of stars.

Quasars are energetic cores of galaxies, composed of supermassive black holes fed by vast quantities of gas, stars, and planets. These bodies are capable of emitting a thousand times as much energy as the entire galaxies which host the bodies.

Quasar winds push vast amounts of material away from the core of an energetic supermassive black hole at the core of a distant galaxy, in this artist’s conception. Image credit: NASA

These quasar winds push material away from the center of the galaxy, accelerating gas and dust at speeds approaching a few percent of the speed of light. The pressure pushes aside material which could otherwise collapse to form new stars, making stellar formation more difficult, reducing the number of new stars formed. This new study shows this process is more widespread than previously believed, altering star formation throughout entire galaxies.

“These outflows are crucial for the understanding of galaxies’ formation. They are pushing hundreds of solar masses of material each year. The amount of mechanical energy that these outflows carry is up to several hundreds of times higher than the luminosity of the entire Milky Way galaxy,” Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech stated.

An image of the quasar RX J1131, taken in X-ray and optical wavelengths. Image credit: X-Ray: NASA/CXC/University of Michigan/R.C. Reis et. al. Optical: NASA/STScI

As the outflow blasts into interstellar material, it heats the medium to millions of degrees, setting the galaxy alight in X-rays. Energy pours out through the galaxy, producing a fireworks show for anyone capable of seeing it.

“You’ll get lots of radiation first in X-rays and gamma rays, and afterwards it will percolate to visible and infrared light. You’d get a huge light show, like Christmas trees all over the galaxy,” Arav explained.

Galaxies get blown away

I saw the whole universe laid out before me, a vast shining machine of indescribable beauty and complexity. Its design was too intricate for me to understand, and I knew I could never begin to grasp more than the smallest idea of its purpose. But I sensed that every part of it, from quark to quasar, was unique and — in some mysterious way — significant. — R. J. Anderson

This study could explain several mysteries in astronomy and cosmology, including why the size of galaxies is related to the mass of the supermassive black holes at their centers. It may also explain why so few massive galaxies are seen throughout the Cosmos.

“Both theoreticians and observers have known for decades that there is some physical process that shuts off star formation in massive galaxies, but the nature of that process has been a mystery. Putting the observed outflows into our simulations solves these outstanding problems in galactic evolution,” said Jeremiah Ostriker, a cosmologist at Columbia and Princeton universities not involved with this current study. Below is a 3D animation video of a quasar by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

[embedded content]

Outflows from quasars were studied by astronomers using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) attached to the Hubble Space Telescope, the only instrument capable of carrying out the needed observations in ultraviolet wavelengths.

A second outflow measured by researchers on this study increased its speed from 69 million kilometers (43 million miles) per hour to 74 million KPH (46 million MPH) over a period of three years. Models suggest that such outflows should have been common in the early Universe. Researchers on this study believe this material will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future.

Analysis of the data was published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Supplements.

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by James Maynard, an astronomy journalist, fan of coffee, sci-fi, movies, and creativity. Maynard has been writing about space since he was 10, but he’s “still not Carl Sagan.” The Cosmic Companion’s mailing list/podcast. You can read this original piece here.

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Voyager 2 flew through a giant magnetic gas bubble during Uranus flyby – The Weather Network

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When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Uranus in January of 1986, it gave us our first up-close look at the distant ice giant. Now, over three decades later, the data collected by the probe’s sensors has revealed that it flew straight through an immense magnetic bubble, known as a plasmoid, that was ejected from the planet’s atmosphere.

Uranus is certainly the oddball of all the worlds orbiting our Sun.

Tilted over on its side by some cataclysmic event in the early years of the solar system, this ice giant has a bizarre ‘wobbly’ magnetic field that scientists are still trying to make sense of, even now.

“The structure, the way that it moves… Uranus is really on its own,” Gina DiBraccio, a space physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and project scientist for the MAVEN mission, said in a press release.

Roughly 34 years ago, Voyager 2 discovered rings around Uranus, found never-before-seen moons circling it, and it took readings of the planet’s extremely frigid atmosphere.

Voyager 2 flies past Uranus on January 24, 1986. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to a new study, data from Voyager 2’s flyby also picked up one other thing, which was missed at the time.

DiBraccio and fellow NASA Goddard scientist Dan Gershman were in the midst of planning possible missions for NASA to revisit the Ice Giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, but to stay this time. One aspect of this process is to look for compelling mysteries that a planetary spacecraft could investigate and potentially solve. Poring through the data collected by Voyager 2’s Magnetometer instrument, over three decades ago, they found something interesting.

As the spacecraft swung by, at around 80,000 km above Uranus’ cloudtops, it picked up a weird magnetic blip that lasted for just one minute of the total 45-hour flyby.

Voyager-Uranus-magnetometer-NASAMagnetometer data from Voyager 2’s Uranus flyby, showing the data averaged over 8-minute periods (red), and the same data plotted every 1.92 seconds (black), revealing the zigzag signature of a ‘plasmoid’. Credits: NASA/Dan Gershman

After examining this blip closely, DiBraccio and Gershman came to the conclusion that it was a ‘plasmoid’ – an immense magnetic bubble being expelled from Uranus’ magnetic field.

A plasmoid often forms as a planet’s magnetic field is shaped by the solar wind, and influenced by solar storms. While the magnetic field lines near to the planet form a fairly spherical ‘shield’, the flow of the solar wind causes the outer field lines to stretch back into a ‘magnetotail’ on the night side the planet. If a solar storm or a fast stream of the solar wind pushes the field lines in the magnetotail closer together, they can ‘reconnect’, closing off a magnetic bubble that then gets caught up in the solar wind’s flow.

Plasmoid-Earth-Reconnection-NASA-GoddardMagnetic reconnection in Earth’s magnetotail forms a plasmoid bubble. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Scott Sutherland

Based on what Voyager 2’s Magnetometer picked up, the spacecraft apparently passed straight through one of these plasmoids as it was passing Uranus. At roughly 400,000 kilometres wide, this magnetic bubble was found to be filled with mostly ionized hydrogen. There was a bonus, too. The magnetic field inside the bubble was found to form smooth, closed loops. This told DiBraccio and Gershman that the ionized hydrogen was very likely a blob of Uranus’ atmosphere, being carried away by the plasmoid.

While plasmoids are known to form in Earth’s magnetotail, and they’ve been observed at Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, this is the very first evidence that this process happens at Uranus too.

Currently, there is great interest in the space exploration community to send new missions out to the Ice Giants, as we have with the Gas Giants, Jupiter and Saturn. After Voyager 1 & 2’s flybys of the outer planets, NASA sent Galileo, and then Juno, to orbit Jupiter. Cassini explored Saturn, and its rings and moons, for over 14 years.

Sending spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune would give us new up-close looks at these distant worlds. It would provide new data that could help scientists solve existing mysteries that were discovered, either by telescopes or the Voyager probes. It would undoubtedly give us new mysteries to study, about the Ice Giants themselves and about our solar system in general.

Sources: NASA | NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

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Comet makes northern hemisphere flyby | Star News – Otago Daily Times

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By David Hill

Canterbury’s observatories might be in lockdown, but there is plenty for budding scientists and the superstitious to discover.

While the Oxford Area School Observatory is in lockdown, volunteer Erik Vermaat has been keeping in touch his night class students via his “Corona Blog” and on Facebook.

He says a lockdown can be the ideal time to make new discoveries.

“Newton developed theories of calculus and gravity while at home. What are you doing?” Erik says.

As Erik points out, during the Great Plague of London in 1666, a 22-year-old Cambridge University student named Isaac Newton came up with new theories for calculus, optics and the law of gravitation, while in self-isolation after returning home to the family farm.

The superstitious will realise comets have a knack of making an appearance in the night sky in a crisis and Covid-19 doesn’t disappoint, as Oxford Observatory volunteer James Moffat points out.

“Atlas C/2019 Y4 could almost be mistaken for the latest doomsday comet arriving around the same time Covid-19 made its first appearance in China.”

Comets have historically been “harbingers of death”, with Halley’s Comet making one of its flybys in 1665, on the eve of the Great Plague which claimed 100,000 lives in London.

“This comet (Atlas) is fast living up to that reputation appearing in brightness as rapidly as the Covid-19 virus itself spreads.”

The Greek demi-god Atlas was perceived as carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, “but in fact it was the celestial sphere not the terrestrial globe,” James says.

“That is a weight human-kind now bears upon his own shoulders in containing Covid-19.”

On Erik’s “Corona Blog” you can discover just how fast the speed of light is, all the observable parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum (which Ernest Rutherford helped to discover) and exoplanets. Find the link on the Oxford Observatory page on Facebook.

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