Hubble team works to revive camera amid shutdown

Hubble Space Telescope

NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel, perched on the end of the shuttle Atlantis’ robotic arm, helps to install the Wide Field Camera 3 during 2009 spacewalk to perform work on the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA Photo)

Engineers are working to bring the Hubble Space Telescope’s wide-angle camera back into operation after a hardware problem knocked it offline.

In a status update, NASA said the problem cropped up on Jan. 8 and forced a suspension of operations for the Wide Field Camera 3.

WFC3 was installed on the telescope nearly a decade ago during the space shuttle fleet’s final servicing mission. It’s designed to capture high-resolution images in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths.

“Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated,” NASA said. Those instruments include the Advanced Camera for Surveys, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.

NASA said that WFC3 is “equipped with redundant electronics should they be needed to recover the instrument.”

Operations at NASA have been reduced agency-wide due to a partial government shutdown that’s lasted 19 days so far. However, Christine Pulliam, news director for the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute, said the shutdown “is not affecting the response to the anomaly.”

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Space billionaires honored as ‘Legends of Aviation’

Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen

Two Seattle billionaires, Jeff Bezos (left) and the late Paul Allen (right), will be honored for their contributions to aviation and space next week at a Beverly Hills awards ceremony. (GeekWire Photos)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has racked up another round of recognition for his role on the space frontier: Next week he’ll be inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation, alongside aerospace executives, pioneering skydiver Joe Kittinger and musician Kenny G.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who passed away in October, will receive a posthumous tribute as a “Flown West Legend” during the Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony, scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The star-studded event, produced as a fundraiser for the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, honors those who have made significant contributions to aviation. Bezos is among this year’s inductees by virtue of his role in founding the Blue Origin space venture and supporting it to the tune of $1 billion a year.

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Red dwarfs seem to wipe out life’s necessities

AU Microscopii with planet

An artist’s conception shows the red dwarf star AU Microscopii with a hypothetical planet and moon in the foreground. (NASA / ESA Illustration / G. Bacon)

Red dwarf stars have been seen as the biggest potential frontier for alien life, in part because they’re the most common stars in our galaxy. But observations made using the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the frontier might turn out to be a desert.

“We may have found the limit to habitable planets,” said Carol Grady, a co-investigator on the Hubble observations from Eureka Scientific in Oakland, Calif. She laid out the research team’s findings today at the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting in Seattle.

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Boeing reports record airplane deliveries for 2018

Boeing 737 jets

Boeing’s 737 jets accounted for well more than half of a record-high 806 deliveries during 2018. (Boeing Illustration)

Boeing says it delivered a record-high 806 airplanes in 2018, with single-aisle 737 jets accounting for well more than half of those deliveries.

The record pace comes despite a 737 delivery backup that hit the planemaker’s plant in Renton, Wash., last summer due to problems with suppliers such as Spirit AeroSystems and CFM International. The company said 69 planes were delivered in December.

Last year’s tally bests the previous record of 763 deliveries in 2017, but falls just short of Boeing’s target of 810 to 815 deliveries.

Boeing’s order backlog grew as well. The company said 893 net orders came in, with a list-price value of $143.7 billion. That’s just slightly below 2017’s tally of 912 net orders. Boeing recorded 203 airplane sales in December alone, contributing to what’s now a seven-year backlog.

Wall Street greeted today’s news positively, boosting Boeing’s share price by more than 3 percent in midday trading.

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For UFO fans, ‘Project Blue Book’ rings all too true

“Project Blue Book” turns some of the best-known UFO tales into a TV series, starring Aidan Gillen as investigator J. Allen Hynek. (History Channel Illustration)

“Project Blue Book,” the History Channel TV series making its debut tonight, takes its inspiration from classic UFO cases of the 1940s and 1950s — but for UFO fans who gathered to watch a Seattle preview of the first episode, the show hints at the shape of things to come as well.

“You won’t believe how many productions are coming down the pike right now to basically red-pill the public,” Michael W. Hall, the founder of a Seattle-area group called UFOiTeam, said at the screening. “The truth is out there, and guess what? We’re going to have to ‘fess up to it right away.”

“Project Blue Book” fictionalizes the real-life X-files of pioneer UFO investigator J. Allen Hynek. So it was natural for.Hall — an attorney based in Edmonds, Wash., who styles himself as the “Paranormal Lawyer” — to put out the word to the more than two dozen UFOiTeam members to attend November’s movie-theater preview.

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TESS mission adds ‘sub-Neptune’ to discovery list

TESS probe

An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite, or TESS, with an assortment of exoplanets. (NASA / GSFC / MIT Illustration)

Less than a year after NASA’s TESS spacecraft was launched, the scientists behind the mission have unveiled their third confirmed planet, a weird alien world that’s between Earth and Neptune in size. And hundreds of additional potential finds are in the pipeline.

The latest exoplanet on the list is HD 21749b, which orbits a star that’s about 80 percent as massive as our sun, located about 53 light-years away in the southern constellation Reticulum. Its 36-day orbital period is a record high for the TESS mission.

The “sub-Neptune” planet is about three times Earth’s size, but 23 times its mass. In comparison, Neptune is almost four times as wide as Earth but only 17 times as massive.

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3-D views reveal ‘Orion’s Dragon’ in space

Orion's Dragon

A color-coded image that’s based on SOFIA infrared data shows “Orion’s Dragon” in the Orion Nebula, more than 1,300 light-years from Earth. (NASA / USRA / DLR Image)

Spectral readings from the Orion Nebula have charted the cosmic weather patterns for powerful stellar winds that have created a bubble of material that’s 12 light-years wide, as well as a structure that’s been nicknamed “Orion’s Dragon.”

The dragon shape stands out in a 3-D video produced using data from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, a Boeing 747 jet that’s been converted to carry a 106-inch telescope and other scientific instruments.

“When we first saw it, we were standing around my computer screen looking at it and say, ‘Hey, doesn’t that look like a dragon?’ And everybody said, ‘Yeah, that looks like a dragon,’ ” Joan Schmelz, the SOFIA project’s associate director for science and public outreach at the Universities Space Research Association, said today at the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting in Seattle.

There’s even a stereoscopic video clip that pops out when seen with red-blue 3-D glasses. (You can download the MPG file via the SOFIA website.)

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