Voyager 2 on a ‘magic mission’ into Milky Way, or Melkweg in Dutch :)

Map of the Milky Way NASA

A map of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/JPL

Holiday tidings come from NASA’s Voyager 2 this week, offering a view of deep space beyond our sun’s solar system.

Now speeding through space at more than 34,000 miles-per-hour, the 1977 space probe resides more than 8.3. billion miles away from the sun. That is twice as far as Pluto. Two years ago, Voyager 2 passed into the region of space where the sun’s solar wind peters out as it plows into the interstellar gases of our Milky Way galaxy. And now it’s giving us some news from this region, called the “heliosheath,” by astrophysicists.

“This is a magic mission,” says space scientist Merav Opher of George Mason University. in Fairfax, Va.. “After all these years, Voyager 2 is still working and sending us first hand (on-site) data.”

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NASA’s Shuttle, Satellite, and Space Telescope fleet triumph in 2009

For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.

In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.

In a recent interview with, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.

“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.

“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”

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What is that cloud of interstellar material? Mystery at the edge of our Solar System solved

Voyager Monster artist rendering

Artist’s rendering of the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it studies the outer limits of the heliosphere — a magnetic ‘bubble’ around the Solar System that is created by the solar wind. Scientists observed the magnetic bubble is not spherical, but pressed inward in the southern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL

Our solar system is passing through a cloud of interstellar material that shouldn’t be there, astronomers say. And now the decades-old Voyager spacecraft has helped solved the mystery.

The cloud is called the “Local Fluff.” It’s about 30 light-years wide and holds a wispy mix of hydrogen and helium atoms, according to a NASA statement released today. Stars that exploded nearby, about 10 million years ago, should have crushed the Fluff or blown it away.

So what’s holding the Fluff in place?

“Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system,” explained Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. “This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together [“The Fluff”] and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all.”

The Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected,” Opher said. “This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction.”

Opher and colleagues detail the discovery in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature.

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Pluto probe closes in – NASA’s New Horizons probe passed a key milestone today

NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto

An artist’s conception shows New Horizons at Pluto. Credit: NASA / JHU APL

NASA’s New Horizons probe passed a key milestone today on its nine-year journey and is now closer to Pluto, its primary target, than it is to Earth. But it still has more than five years and more than 1.5 billion miles to go.

The 1,054-pound (480-kilogram) piano-sized spacecraft blasted off for the solar system’s most controversial dwarf planet almost four years ago. New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth, and thanks to a gravitational boost from Jupiter, it’s closing in on Pluto at the rate of 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) per day. The probe is due to zoom past Pluto and its three moons on July 14, 2015.

As of today, New Horizons is between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus – a little more than 1.527 billion miles (2.463 billion kilometers) from Earth and 1.526 billion miles (nearly 2.462 billion kilometers) from Pluto, according to today’s status report from mission control at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. (APL is managing the mission on NASA’s behalf.)

Read the rest at MSNBC Cosmic Blog

PM hands over Pakistan-made JF-17 aircraft to Pakistan Air Force (PAF)

JF-17 jet joins the PAF

PM Gilani said the JF-17 programme had provided jobs to about 5,000 people, adding that there should be more centers of excellence like the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, in other fields to attract the youth towards constructive activities. Credit: APP photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday formally joined the international community of fighter aircraft manufacturers as JF- 17 Thunder, the first ever multi-role state of the art fighter jet, rolled out of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra and was included to the fleet of Pakistan Air Force.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was the chief guest at the ceremony that marked a milestone in the Sino-Pak joint venture in air defense system.

Senate Chairman Farooq H. Naik, Federal Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira, Defense Minister Ch Ahmed Mukhtar, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui, Pakistan’s ambassador to China Masood Khan and three services chiefs attended the ceremony.

The sophisticated JF-17 Thunder, painted green in the color scheme of national flag appeared with grandeur as the Prime Minister unveiled the fighter jet before the audience.

Manufactured with the cooperation of China, the event has been termed as a beginning of new era of Pak-China friendship.

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Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal has become the first ship to use Twitter

HMS Ark Royal

The crew of the Portsmouth-based carrier can contact friends and family by posting updates and pictures from sea.

Twitter users can also message the crew back.

Messages include information about choir practice and a chemical training exercise, complete with images of the crew in chemical suits and respirators.

A recent post says: “Just had our brief for our final training war tomorrow. We are all living up to our motto – ‘Zeal does not rest’.”

HMS Ark Royal’s commanding officer, Captain John Clink, said he was keen to keep up with the latest technology.

“For hundreds of years the Royal Navy has been at the forefront of technology – particularly communications between ship and shore,” he said.

“So it’s no surprise to me that we are embracing all available media, especially the internet, to keep the public up to date with our operations.

“Twitter gives Ark Royal an immediate, up-to-the-minute link into her followers, many of whom will be friends and family.”

The launch of Twitter on Ark Royal comes a month after the navy gave personal games consoles to sailors for engineering and maths challenges.

A historic full moon will occur this New Year’s Eve, a blue moon.

Full moon coming on New years eve

The coming full moon will be the first New Year’s Eve blue moon – by one definition – since 1990. Credit: Chuck Liddy

On New Year’s Eve, when merrymakers crowd the streets, a blue moon will shine over their festive heads – bringing to the holiday both a night-sky rarity and a decades-old quibble.

Most plainly, a blue moon means seldom. Practically never. It’s shorthand for an event that happens so infrequently you might as well wait for the big white pumpkin in the sky to change color.

But the meaning and roots of the phrase are tangled up in error and dispute. Pick your own explanation and raise a glass to Earth’s lonely satellite.

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India sand Santa sculptures spread green message

Santa display in India spreads green message

It took 36 hours to create the exhibition Credit: BBC

Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik has sculpted 100 Santa Claus figures on a beach in the tourist town of Puri.

The exhibition, which was opened by two foreign tourists last week, seeks to spread awareness about global warming.

Mr Patnaik has also sculpted Christmas trees with the message “Save the Earth from Global Warming”, to encourage people to give trees as gifts.

Hundreds of tourists and locals have been visiting the beach to see the unique display.

About 1,000 tonnes of sand and 36 hours of labour went into the creation of the sculpture.

Mr Patnaik was assisted by 20 students of the Golden Institute of Sand Art set up by him on Puri beach.

‘Humble effort’

“It is my humble effort to press home the dire need to go green to save the world from the menace of global warming,” Mr Patnaik told the BBC over telephone from Puri in eastern Orissa state.

Puri, 60km (37 miles) from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, is a major centre of Hindu pilgrimage and is the place where sand art originated in the 14th Century.

Around this time of year thousands of tourists from all over the world descend on Puri.

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Swiss test solar-power aircraft for night flight

Swiss test solar-power aircraft for night flight. History is being created inside a hangar in Dubendorf Air Base in Switzerland [ Images ] that will radically change the way an aircraft flies.

The prototype of an aircraft, to be propelled entirely by solar power even at night, has already been successfully tested for a ‘flea hop’ or a short flight.

Scientists and engineers are working full-steam to fly the aircraft around the world for 36 hours through day and night in the spring or summer of 2010, Bertrand Piccard, the driving force behind the Solar Impulse project and its test pilot, told PTI.

“What is being done is not a revolution. We try and open a new path and see what happens. We do not claim that commercial aviation will run on solar energy in the next couple of years. Solar Impulse an attempt to show what can be achieved by renewable energies and new technologies.”

The difference between this aircraft and similar ones developed earlier is that this is being developed to fly at night, Piccard, who created a record by being the first to fly around the world in a hot-air balloon, said.

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