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  • richardmitnick 5:20 am on October 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Science Magazine: NASA weighs trimming WFIRST to hold down costs 

    Science Magazine

    The proposed Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. NASA

    Oct. 23, 2017
    Daniel Clery

    NASA will have to scale back its next big orbiting observatory to avoid busting its budget and affecting other missions, an independent panel says. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is due for launch in the mid-2020s. But 1 year after NASA gave the greenlight its projected cost is $3.6 billion, roughly 12% overbudget.

    “I believe reductions in scope and complexity are needed,” Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., wrote in a memo that NASA released last Thursday.

    Designed to investigate the nature of dark energy and study exoplanets, WFIRST was chosen by the astronomy community as its top space-based mission priority in the 2010 decadal survey entitled New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. But the start of the project was initially delayed by the huge overspend on its predecessor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2019.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Then last year, a midterm review of the 2010 decadal survey warned that WFIRST could go the same way and advised NASA to form a panel of independent experts to review the project.

    NASA assembled that panel in April this year and it recently submitted its conclusions. The agency has not released its report, as it is due to be discussed by the Committee for Astronomy and Astrophysics of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine this week, but it did release a memo from Zurbuchen to Christopher Scolese, director of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which is leading the project.

    In it, Zurbuchen directs the lab “to study modifying the current WFIRST design … to reduce cost and complexity sufficient to have a cost estimate consistent with the $3.2 billion cost target [set last year].” Though the panel heaped praise on the WFIRST team for the work done so far, according to Zurbuchen’s memo, it faulted NASA managers for creating several challenges that have made the project “more complicated than originally anticipated.”

    Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, told ScienceInsider that one major demand was enlarging the spacecraft to accommodate a 2.4-meter mirror that the National Reconnaissance Office donated in 2012. Another was adding an instrument called a coronagraph.

    WFIRST, which will have the sensitivity of the Hubble Space Telescope but with 100 times its field of view, was originally designed to survey the sky for signs of cosmic acceleration caused by dark energy. But when exoplanet researchers realized it would also benefit their field they lobbied for the inclusion of a coronagraph. This device acts as a mask inside the telescope to block out the glaring brightness of a star and reveal any dim planets around it.

    NASA also decided to split the ground segment for the mission between the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    And in an act of future-proofing, NASA wanted WFIRST to carry equipment making it compatible with a starshade, a proposed spacecraft that can be stationed at a distance to block out starlight and reveal exoplanets (more effectively than a coronagraph). “All these things added complexity,” Hertz says.

    Starshade. NASA

    Zurbuchen’s memo to Scolese directs the lab to retain the basic elements of the mission—the 2.4-meter mirror, widefield camera, and coronagraph—but to seek cost-saving “reductions.” Hertz says this will require reducing the capabilities of instruments but ensuring they remain “above the science floor laid down by the decadal survey.” The coronagraph will be recategorized as a “technology demonstration instrument,” removing the burden of achieving a scientific target. The change will also save money, Hertz explains.

    Hertz says exoplanet researchers shouldn’t worry about the proposed changes. “We know we’ll get good science out of the coronagraph. We’ll be able to see debris disks, zodiacal dust, and exoplanets in wide orbits,” he says. Astronomers wanting to see Earth twins in the habitable zone may be disappointed, however.

    Zurbuchen also asked project managers to save money in the ground segment and by letting industry build some components or subsystems. The WFIRST team will need to submit a revised design by February 2018, before vendors are chosen, to begin building the hardware.

    If costs continue to escalate, Zurbuchen says in his memo, NASA may need to abandon the 2.4-meter mirror and revert to the original, cheaper design using a 1.5-meter one. “That is plan B,” says Hertz, “but we very much like the 2.4-meter mirror.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on November 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESA Hubble, Too Good to Miss: “Merging clusters in 30 Doradus” 


    This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of a pair of star clusters that are believed to be in the early stages of merging. The clusters lie in the gigantic 30 Doradus Nebula [also known as Tarantula Nebula], which is 170,000 light-years from Earth

    Credits: NASA, ESA, and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI) Acknowledgment: R. O’Connell (University of Virginia) and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

    Hubble’s circumstantial evidence for the impending collision comes from seeing an elongated structure in the cluster at upper left, and from measuring a different age between the two clusters. Also, the unusually large number of high-velocity stars around 30 Doradus can finally be explained if a small cluster has merged into the big cluster R136 in the centre of the Tarantula Nebula.

    This nearby example of cluster interaction yields insights into how star clusters may have formed in the early Universe.

    The Hubble observations, made with the Wide Field Camera 3, were taken 20-27 October, 2009. The blue colour is light from the hottest, most massive stars; the green from the glow of oxygen; and the red from fluorescing hydrogen.

    The complete article is here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international co-operation between NASA and the European Space Agency.

    The main scientific office for Hubble is located at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA, though the telescope is used by scientists around the world. The education and public outreach office for ESA’s share of the Hubble Space Telescope (known as ESA/Hubble), which runs the spacetelescope.org website, is located at the headquarters of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.

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  • richardmitnick 3:48 pm on April 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Telescope Science Institute, Speaking of Hubble   

    From Speaking of Hubble: “The Life Cycles of Stars” 

    April 5, 2012
    Jason Kalirai

    “As you stargaze over the next few weeks, keep in mind that most of those tiny points of light scattered across the sky are burning infernos of gas. These stars are very much like the Sun. Some are bigger and more powerful, and some smaller. But they are not constant. Stars change over time, and evolve into different states. Understanding this process of stellar evolution is my primary passion in astronomy, and was the focus of a meeting we just held at the Space Telescope Science Institute, ‘The Mass Loss Return from Stars to Galaxies’.

    A low-mass star, like our Sun, will slowly burn its hydrogen into helium, and remain in a state of equilibrium for billions of years. This is great for us on Earth, since it provides us with a stable environment. But in about 4 billion years, the Sun will expand and begin to lose its outer layers. During this stage, called the red giant phase, the Sun will be so large that it will encompass the Earth’s orbit around it, crisping our planet!

    (Wikipedia)The size of the current Sun (now in the main sequence) compared to its estimated size during its red giant phase in the future. No image credit

    Interested? See the full article here.

    Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) — home of science program selection, grant administration, planning, scheduling, and public outreach activities for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). STScI provides data archive and distribution for all of NASA’s optical/UV missions, including HST. STScI is also the science and operations center for the 6.5m James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

  • richardmitnick 10:20 am on December 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “NASA Telescopes Help Find Rare Galaxy at Dawn of Time” 

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/University of Tokyo

    “This image shows one of the most distant galaxies known, called GN-108036, dating back to 750 million years after the Big Bang that created our universe. The galaxy’s light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.

    The galaxy was discovered and confirmed using the Subaru telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, respectively, both located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. After the galaxy was discovered, astronomers looked at infrared observations of it taken by NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, and were surprised by how bright the galaxy appeared. This brightness resulted from an extreme burst of star formation — a rare event for such an early cosmic era. In fact, GN-108036 is the most luminous galaxy found to date at these great distances.

    Astronomers refer to a galaxy’s distance by its “redshift,” a number that refers to how much the light has been stretched to longer, redder wavelengths by the expansion of the universe. Galaxies with higher redshifts are more distant, and are seen farther back in time. GN-108036 has a redshift of 7.2, making it one of only a handful of galaxies detected this far away and this early in cosmic history.

    The main Hubble image shows a field of galaxies, known as the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey, or GOODS. A close-up of the Hubble image, and a Spitzer image, are called out at right. In the Spitzer image, infrared light captured by its Infrared Array Camera at wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is colored green and red, respectively. In the Hubble image, visible light taken by its Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument at 0.6 and 0.9 microns is blue and green, respectively, while infrared light captured by Hubble’s new Wide Field Camera 3 at 1.6 microns is red. GN-108036 is only detected in the infrared, and is completely invisible in the optical Hubble images, explaining its very red color in this picture.”

    See the full article here, where you will also find further links.


    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
    i1 i2


    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

  • richardmitnick 9:49 pm on December 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “A ‘Rose’ Made of Galaxies” 

    In celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s deployment in April 2011, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute pointed Hubble’s eye to an especially photogenic group of interacting galaxies called Arp 273.


    he larger of the spiral galaxies, known as UGC 1810, has a disk that is tidally distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational tidal pull of the companion galaxy below it, known as UGC 1813. A swath of blue jewels across the top is the combined light from clusters of intensely bright and hot young blue stars. These massive stars glow fiercely in ultraviolet light.

    The smaller, nearly edge-on companion shows distinct signs of intense star formation at its nucleus, perhaps triggered by the encounter with the companion galaxy.

    A series of uncommon spiral patterns in the large galaxy is a tell-tale sign of interaction. The large, outer arm appears partially as a ring, a feature seen when interacting galaxies actually pass through one another. This suggests that the smaller companion actually dived deep, but off-center, through UGC 1810. The inner set of spiral arms is highly warped out of the plane with one of the arms going behind the bulge and coming back out the other side. How these two spiral patterns connect is still not precisely known.

    The interaction was imaged on Dec. 17, 2010, with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

    This Hubble image is a composite of data taken with three separate filters on WFC3 that allow a broad range of wavelengths covering the ultraviolet, blue and red portions of the spectrum.

    Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

    See the article here.

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