Friday, February 15, 2008

Today the ISS becomes ... an astronomical observatory!

Well, kind of: During the 3rd and final EVA on Feb. 15, Walheim & Love will install two payloads on Columbus' exterior: SOLAR, an observatory to monitor the sun, and the European Technology Exposure Facility that will carry nine experiments requiring exposure to the space environment. SOLAR consists of three detectors, two of proven design in earlier missions and a new one from Germany. While their task - monitoring solar flux and spectral variations with extreme precision - is more of geophysical than astronomical interest, SOLAR represents one of the very few science experiments on the ISS that actually have something to do with an object in space, well beyond Low Earth Orbit!

Talking about the Sun, a new method called COSTEP that uses SOHO data to predict, in real-time, the approach and intensity of hazardous solar particles that would threaten astronauts and technology in space is now being tested, while an ESA simulation called DESIRE is designed to provide a European capability in accurately predicting radiation doses onboard Columbus. And talking about Columbus, here's a cool timelapse movie (speeded up 30 times) of its installation. The ISS has been filmed crossing the Moon and photographed in detail. And there finally is a new launch manifest for the shuttle in 2008: Contrary to earlier rumors NASA will try to fly the final Hubble Servicing Mission still in August, although it slips from the 7th to the 28th.

In other news the WZ-type dwarf nova HV Vir ist currently undergoing an outburst, while the famous super-bright supernova SN 2006gy is still going strong in the infrared. Another exoplanet discovery using the microlensing method - the 1st one yielding several planets for the same star; "solar system analogs may be common"! - has involved several amateurs to track its complicated lightcurve.

Additional radar images of the first triple NEO are out as are some more articles - all appearing 24+ hours after you read it here first! Staying with minor bodies here are comet Tuttle on the 11th and Chen-Gao on the 10th.

And the upcoming intercept by a Standard Missile 3 of satellite USA 193 - which is easily visible for everyone - is making lots of headlines now, some stories more factual, others less so ...

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