Space

While the team here discusses our current veeery quiet solar minimum, what are working solar physicists thinking?  Well, from the SPA Newsletter (http://spc.igpp.ucla.edu/spa/spanews.html), a twice-weekly newsletter, came this neat bit of April 1 whimsy:

Solar Dynamics Observer Mission Postponed

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: <claruse at igpp.ucla.edu>
Integral has captured one of the brightest gamma-ray bursts ever seen. A meticulous analysis of the data has allowed astronomers to investigate the initial phases of this giant stellar explosion, which led to the ejection of matter at velocities close to the speed of light. In particular, the astronomers believe that the explosion lifted a piece of the central engine’s magnetic field into space.
 
On 19 December 2004, the blast from an exploding star arrived at Earth. ESA’s Integral satellite, an orbiting gamma-ray observatory, recorded the entire event, providing information for what may prove to be one of the most important gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) seen in recent years. As the data was collected, astronomers saw the 500-second-long burst rise to extraordinary brilliance. 
The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower. 

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73 percent). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87 percent).  

A team of astronomers, led by Stefan Kraus and Gerd Weigelt from the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, used ESO's Very Large telescope Interferometer (VLTI) to obtain the sharpest ever image of the young double star Theta 1 Ori C in the Orion Trapezium Cluster, the most massive star in the nearest high-mass star-forming region.
Mission Madness got personal. Perhaps it was the SPB ballooning of votes, perhaps it is simply inherent in any popularity contest like this. With only three rounds let to go (vote early, vote often!), the epithets are flying. Match the quote below with its quarterfinalist mission! Trash Talk
  1. "a mission to cold, dead rocks"
  2. "biologically infested mission"
  3. "biologically infested mission"
  4. "hasn't launched yet"
  5. don't even count as [a] mission!
  6. "It either deflates or explodes"
I'm putting the finishing touches to a GUI when the red light starts flashing. The voice comes over the PA from ops, "Warning, Jupiter hoving to view". We quickly drop our work and run across the metal crosswalk that separates us from the STEREO operations bunker. Inside, against the din of the klaxon, we see the massive bulk of Jupiter crowding the leftmost of the main displays. STEREO B was in danger!


And here is the result from our STEREO website. Jupiter seen by STEREO COR1 Okay, I made up the bit about the red light and the klaxons. And after this brief science break, I'll even bring in some irony.

It was bound to happen - stink-free underwear. And naturally, it was developed by women.

Textile experts at Japan Women's University in Tokyo developed J-ware, a a line of odor-free underwear and casual clothing. The first Japanese astronaut to live on the International Space Station, Koichi Wakata, is the guinea pig (or maybe his fellow ISS habitants are).
Research by Michigan State University scientists is helping shed light on neutron stars, city-sized globs of ultra-dense matter that occasionally collapse into black holes.

A team led by Betty Tsang, a professor at MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, has had some success in measuring a key nuclear quality that may make it easier to describe the outer crusts of such stars. 
A shock hit NASA's Mission Madness tournament when the fight between the SPB balloon mission and the MER rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity" escalated to unexpected levels. And now you can find out just how this happened. 'Mission Madness' is a NASA Edge-run voting contest where the public gets to vote for their favorite mission, in a series of 1-on-1 brackets leading to the final winner.
Does a twin Earth exist somewhere in our galaxy?   NASA's Kepler spacecraft just launched to find such worlds, though in a very specific area.   If that search succeeds, the next questions driving research will be: Is that planet habitable? Does it have an Earth-like atmosphere?