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SpaceX launches four astronauts to International Space Station – Al Jazeera English

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A SpaceX rocket has carried four astronauts into orbit, including the 600th person to reach space in 60 years.

The repeatedly delayed flight, which launched on Wednesday night, occurred just two days after SpaceX brought four other astronauts home from the International Space Station (ISS). They should have been up there to welcome the newcomers, but NASA and Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX decided to switch the order based on Monday’s ideal recovery weather in the Gulf of Mexico and pulled it off.

The spaceship, called Endurance, will dock with the ISS at 7:10pm on Thursday (00:10 GMT Friday).

“It was a great ride, better than we imagined,” mission commander Raja Chari said shortly after the spacecraft reached orbit.

NASA chief Bill Nelson said on Twitter he had attended the launch.

“We’re seeing the power of American ingenuity right before our eyes,” he wrote after the rocket took off, hailing the NASA-SpaceX partnership.

“Godspeed, Crew-3 – I can’t wait to see all that you accomplish!”

NASA associate administrator and former astronaut Bob Cabana described the launch as “fantastic”.

“I think it’s an amazing time for America’s space programme. We are definitely at an inflection point,” he added.

The launch was just as riveting for spectators at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, as well as along the East Coast, as the Falcon rocket sped through clouds on its way to space, turning night into day.

Germany’s Matthias Maurer claimed the 600th position, according to NASA, based on his mission assignment. He and his three NASA crewmates will arrive at the space station well over a week late.

One of the astronauts – NASA is not saying which one – was sidelined last week by an undisclosed medical issue. The crew member is fully recovered, according to NASA. Officials will not say whether it was an illness or injury but noted it was not COVID-19.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer of Germany waves while departing the crew quarters for launch on board the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket [Joe Skipper/Reuters]

Bad weather also contributed to their flight delays. Chari said trying to launch on Halloween left them with “a trick instead of a treat”. It was also drizzling on Wednesday night when the four astronauts said goodbye to their families for six months – with everyone huddling under umbrellas – but it cleared up by launch time.

“Enjoy your holidays among the stars. We’ll be waving as you fly by,” SpaceX Senior Launch Engineer Mark Soltys radioed to the crew.

The list of 600 space travellers ranges from those who have barely scratched space – like actor William Shatner last month – to US and Russian astronauts who have spent a year or more in orbit. This year’s surge in space tourists helped push the tally beyond the 600 mark.

That averages out to 10 people per year since Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight in 1961, Maurer noted.

“But I think in a very few years, we will see an exponential rise of that one because now we’re entering the era of commercial spaceflight,” he said after arriving at Kennedy Space Center two weeks ago.

The crew launch marked SpaceX’s fourth for NASA and the company’s fifth passenger flight overall – including a September charter flight for four that skipped the Space Station. The Dragon capsule’s toilet leaked during their three days in orbit, necessitating a quick redesign of the flushing system in the newest capsule.

An imperfectly functioning parachute during Monday’s descent had SpaceX engineers poring over the data, before giving the go-ahead for Wednesday’s launch. One of the four chutes opened more than a minute late, a problem seen in testing and well within safety limits, but was still being examined, officials said.

As of Wednesday, Musk’s company has launched 18 people in 18 months.

“Human spaceflight was the reason we were founded, so it’s incredibly meaningful for the whole team,” said Sarah Walker, a SpaceX manager.

The European Space Agency’s Mauer is one of three newbies on the crew. The 51-year-old was a finalist when he first applied to be an astronaut. Encouraged, he left his research job at a medical company and joined the space agency as an engineer, and made the astronaut cut in 2015.

Chari, 44, is an Air Force colonel and the first space rookie in decades to lead a mission to orbit for NASA. A test pilot from Cedar Falls, Iowa, Chari accumulated more than 2,500 hours in fighter jets, including combat missions in Iraq.

Also on board is Dr Thomas Marshburn, 61, who will be the oldest person to live on board the space station and perform a spacewalk. Born in Statesville, North Carolina, he pursued a career in emergency medicine, then joined NASA in 1994 as a flight surgeon. This is his third trip to the space station.

Kayla Barron, 34, a Navy lieutenant commander from Richland, Washington is also on board. She was among the first women to serve as submarine warfare officers. Added to the flight in May, she is the 601st person in space.

During their station stay, they will welcome two groups of tourists. A Russian film crew recently spent two weeks at the station, making a movie.

The new crew will be joining three station residents – two Russians and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei, who celebrated his 55th birthday on Wednesday.

“NASA and @SpaceX are lighting a big candle in the sky for you tonight,” NASA tweeted before the launch.

That candle – the first-stage booster – landed upright on an ocean barge.

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Hubble Captures Stunning Image of Colliding Gases in 'Running Man' Nebula – Gadgets 360

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Hubble Space Telescope has often captured stunning images of mysterious events in space. It has allowed astronomers to widen their research and uncover new details. Recently, the telescope was trying to understand how young stars influenced their environment and it witnessed a shock wave of colliding luminous gases in the ‘Running Man’ Nebula. The image of the Herbig-Haro object, known as HH 45, showed clouds of gas and dust glow. Herbig-Haro is a type of nebula that forms when gas from a newborn star collides with dust around it at huge speeds and produces shock waves.

Herbig-Haro objects are rarely seen. This object is located in the nebula NGC 1977, also called the Running Man Nebula, which is a complex structure of three nebulae in the Great Orion Nebula, about  5,000 light-years from the Earth.

The Running Man Nebula is a reflection nebula, meaning it does not emit light on its own but reflects light from nearby stars “like a streetlight illuminating fog,” according to NASA. Hubble was looking at this region for “stellar jets and planet-forming disks around young stars.” It was trying to examine how their environment affects the evolution of such disks.

The Hubble image showed two sets of ionised gases glowing in blue and purple colours. While blue indicated ionised oxygen, purple represented ionised magnesium. “Researchers were particularly interested in these elements because they could be used to identify shocks and ionisation fronts,” the NASA statement read.

This image was not a bad capture for an observatory that was waking up after a technical problem and went into “safe mode” in October. Hubble, a joint project by NASA and ESA, was last serviced in person in 2009 and has not been visited by astronauts since 2011.

NASA is set to launch the more powerful James Webb telescope in December as a “successor” to the Hubble Space Telescope. Citing the differences between the both, NASA has stated that their capabilities weren’t identical. One of the differences NASA pointed out was that while James Webb telescope will study the universe largely in infrared, Hubble had been focusing on optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.


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How to catch your once-in-a-lifetime look at Comet Leonard – CBC News

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Your once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a green comet named C/2021 A1 — a.k.a. Leonard — is here. Astronomy experts, including the comet’s discoverer, offer tips on when and how to see the comet.

What is Comet C/2021 A1?

Like other comets, Leonard is a ball of frozen gas, rocks and dust. When its orbit brings it close to the sun, the heat causes some of that material to vapourize, which makes it glow and sprout a tail of gas and dust. 

Why is this comet causing so much excitement?

While many comets pass through our solar system, few come close enough to the sun or the Earth for us to see them.

This week, it may be possible to see Leonard even without binoculars, the experts said.

“Brighter comets are rare, so it’s definitely worth making an effort to see them,” said Chris Vaughan, an operator at the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, Ont., and a volunteer with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Vaughan recently posted about Comet Leonard on his Astronomy Skylights blog.

Leonard’s discoverer, Greg Leonard, has discovered 13 comets, but said this one feels “like hitting the celestial jackpot,” because of how visible it will be. 

“It’s a real dream come true and it’s very, very humbling,”  he told CBC’s As It Happens on Dec. 2.

When is the best time to see the comet?

Right now, the comet is visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the eastern sky to people using binoculars from anywhere in Canada in the early morning, he said. 

It’s expected to get brighter and closer to the horizon every morning until Saturday, Dec. 11. 

For those who want to see the comet, Vaughan recommends going out in the early morning over the next couple of days, if the sky is clear. He said an area away from city lights, with a clear view of the horizon to the east, would offer the best view. By returning on subsequent mornings, you should be able to notice the change, he said.

If the weather co-operates, Friday and Saturday mornings around 6 a.m. may be the best bets for a good view. At that point, Vaughan said, Leonard should still be high enough that it won’t be blocked by trees and houses or distorted by the atmosphere.  

On Sunday, Dec. 12, the comet should make its closest approach to Earth, then disappear the next day for Northern Hemisphere viewers.

It’s expected to return Monday after sunset, as it heads away from the Earth toward the sun, getting fainter over the following weeks.

“But it’ll never get very high above the horizon,” Vaughan said. “The pre-dawn is your best chance [for viewing], the next few days.”

How can you find it in the night sky?

It will be in the eastern sky below and to the left of the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. 

This map of the sky at 6 a.m. (no matter where you are in Canada) shows where to look for Comet Leonard this week. It’s based on a diagram created by Chris Vaughan with the software Stellarium for his blog Astronomy Skylights on his website, AstroGeo. (CBC News)

Justin Anderson, an astro-photographer who lives north of Brandon, Man., managed to capture the comet earlier this week, and said he plans to keep going out to take more photos.

He said he uses mobile apps such as Star Walk and Stellarium that allow you to point your phone up at the sky, show a map of the stars in that region and pinpoint where the comet is expected to be.

“With binoculars, it was pretty difficult to find it, just because the tail is quite dim,” Anderson said. 

It’s easier to find with a camera, he said, which is more sensitive to faint objects than our eyes. The camera doesn’t need to be fancy, Anderson said, although zooming in may help. 

“Put your camera in that direction and take a photo if you don’t see it,” he said. “You might have to move it a little bit more and take another photo until you do see it. But it is very green on the camera, and you do see a little bit of a tail behind it.”

When will it become visible to the naked eye?

As of Dec. 7, Leonard was 46.25 million kilometres away, with a brightness magnitude of 6.9. It will need to reach a magnitude between four and five to be visible in rural areas, Vaughan said,which it is predicted to do this weekend.

The @cometleonard Twitter account provides regular updates on the comet’s magnitude.

Magnitude five is dimmer than last year’s Comet NEOWISE, which topped out between magnitude one and two, similar to the North Star, Polaris. 

But no one knows if Comet Leonard will follow predictions.

“The only thing consistent about comets is their unpredictability,” said Greg Leonard. “And a famous comet hunter once said comets are like cats. Both have tails and both do precisely what they want.”

Where did Comet Leonard get its name?

Comets are generally named after their discoverers.  Greg Leonard works for the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson, hunting and tracking near-Earth asteroids.

“On occasion, we stumble into an unknown comet,” he told CBC.

This is actually not the only Comet Leonard. Greg Leonard has discovered 12 other comets — all called Leonard.

But they all have different years, letters and numbers attached.

Greg Leonard poses with the Catalina Sky Survey Telescope, used to find near-Earth asteroids. While doing that, he has found 13 comets, all named after him, including Comet Leonard C/2021a1. (C. Scherer)

On Jan. 3, C/2021 A1 became the first comet discovered this year. The “A” means it was found in the first half of January.

Why do we only get one chance to see it?

Comet Leonard is expected to pass by once and never again.

The comet formed about 4.5 billion years ago and comes from about 550 billion kilometres away, or 3,700 times the distance between the sun and the Earth. 

“It’s been inbound toward the inner solar system for the past 35,000 years,” Leonard said. 

It’s zooming through space at 70 kilometres per second, he said. “That’s enough speed for it to get flung away from our solar system.”

It may arrive in some other star system millions and millions of years from now.

In the meantime, “just appreciate that this beautiful celestial object is up in the sky,” Leonard said. 

“I sure wish everybody clear skies and the opportunity to have a look and see it for themselves.” 
 

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Strange 'hut' spotted on moon by Chinese rover – CTV News

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China’s lunar rover, Yutu 2, will be investigating what appears to be a mysterious cube-shaped “hut” on the moon after spotting it recently on the horizon.

The strange shape was described first in a post last Friday on Our Space, which is associated with the Chinese National Space Administration.

In the post, Yutu 2 was rolling along at the end of October, navigating a complex region on the moon comprised of large impact craters, when drivers noticed something strange in the distance while taking pictures of the skyline with Yutu 2.

They observed what looked like a cube, protruding up from the horizon far away from them. Although it was far away, and thus hard to see properly, it looked unusually angular compared to other rocks, earning it the moniker of a “mysterious hut.”

According to Our Space, the “hut” is around 80 metres away from Yutu 2’s current location. Although the rover has a maximum speed of 200 metres per hour, the rough terrain it is in currently means that the rover will need around two to three Earth months to actually reach the structure. But a plan is in place to investigate.

Yutu 2, which means “Jade Rabbit 2,” is part of the Chang’e Lunar Exploration Program. It’s the first lunar rover to explore the so-called “dark side” of the moon, the side that faces away from Earth. While the dark side has been observed from orbit, it has never been explored on the surface in this way.

The rover is currently making its way west across the dark side of the moon, weaving through a canyon to avoid steep slopes. The day it spotted the strange hut shape on the horizon, it had conquered a climb up a hill after finding itself blocked in by slopes on three sides, according to Our Space.

While the cube-shaped object has spurred comparisons on social media to the monolith found on the moon in the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s far more likely to simply be a large boulder.

Strange things have been seen on celestial bodies before, such as a photo taken of Mars by the Viking 1 orbiter in 1976 which appeared to show a person’s face rising out of the surface of the planet. Dubbed the “Face on Mars,” further photos have shown that it was a trick of lighting on a specific rock formation.

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