Astro News Briefs: March 24–March 30

Meteorites Rain on Northern Illinois

March 27, 2003 | A chunk of interplanetary debris detonated into the sky over northeastern Illinois just before midnight on March 26th, dropping a rain of meteorites onto Chicago's suburbs. In Park Forest, a five-pound stone punched through the roof of a home and rolled to a stop not far from the bed of a sleeping 13-year-old. Rattled residents flooded police and fire stations with calls, as the bolide's atmospheric entry rivaled the Sun and could be seen from as far away as Ohio. The intruding meteoroid had an estimated diameter of 1 or 2 meters and a mass of perhaps 10 tons. No one was injured by the falling fragments, and scientists have asked that residents turn in any pieces they find.

For news reports of the meteorite shower, see http://www.nbc5.com/news/2068758/detail.html and http://abclocal.go.com/wls/news/032703_ns_skyflash.html


Ultraviolet Survey Mission Delayed

March 27, 2003 | Had its launch occurred two days ago as scheduled, NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft would have zoomed skyward atop a Pegasus rocket and now be safely in orbit. But earlier this month, as technicians at the Kennedy Space Center prepared Galex for its ride to space, they discovered a disconnected cable. Concern then turned to whether the cable's fastener was rattling around loose inside the spacecraft, and mission managers decided to delay the launch until protective covers could be installed over the delicate focal-plane mechanism. Now the launch can take place no sooner than April 26th. Galex is to make the first sensitive all-sky survey of the ultraviolet universe. The spacecraft will operate in a low-altitude equatorial orbit and observe only when on the night side of Earth. Besides its all-sky objective, Galex will carry out even more sensitive surveys of smaller regions. These will assess star formation and element production in galaxies by tracing the ultraviolet light coming from short-lived, massive, luminous stars.

For more information on the Galex mission, see http://www.galex.caltech.edu/


Rosetta's Predicament

March 25, 2003 | This May the European Space Agency (ESA) will decide on Rosetta's fate. The spacecraft missed its launch window in January because the launch vehicle, Arianespace's Ariane 5 ECA rocket, failed on a previous mission and couldn't be debugged in time. Rosetta was designed to orbit comet 46/P Wirtanen and release a lander on the comet's surface.

ESA may instead choose to send Rosetta to an alternate target — comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — in February 2004 or 2005 using the Ariane 5, or proceed to 46P/Wirtanen, as originally planned, in January 2004. But that means the spacecraft will have to be reconfigured to fit into a launch-ready vehicle such as a Russian Proton DM rocket. In the meantime, scientists are utilizing both the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory to study and further analyze 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.


Eye on Griffith

March 25, 2003 | Do you want to watch the ongoing renovation of Griffith Observatory? Then download the latest views from the observatory's webcam, which is mounted on a scaffold in Griffith's front lawn and shows the building's façade. This venerable observatory-cum-planetarium overlooking downtown Los Angeles has been closed since January 2002 as part of a three-year, $66-million facelift and expansion. It is scheduled to reopen its doors to the public in late 2005, its 70th-anniversary year.