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spaceweather news

Weather could get in the way of space shuttle launch :: As NASA prepared to start the clocks for the traditional three-day countdown, a shuttle weather officer predicted a 60 percent chance the launch would have to be postponed. Florida's frequent summer thunderstorms are the primary concern [...] NASA has until July 19 to get Discovery airborne before facing a delay until at least late August, when suitable conditions for launch re-occur.

Start the Clock: NASA's Countdown Begins for Space Shuttle Launch :: "Everything is looking go," said veteran shuttle astronaut Steven Lindsey, commander of Discovery's STS-121 mission, this week. "Weather permitting, we're going to be airborne on July 1." The countdown for Discovery's STS-121 shuttle mission began at 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) spaceport as the agency gears up for its second orbiter test flight since the 2003 Columbia accident. "It is ready to launch," NASA test director Jeff Spaulding said of Discovery during a status report today. "I think people have done a great job getting this vehicle ready." Discovery's STS-121 spaceflight is set to launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) from Pad 39B at 3:48:37 p.m. EDT (1948:37 GMT) on July 1. Current forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of poor weather on launch day, NASA said. "I'm hoping the weather is going to improve so we'll get off on time," said Piers Sellers, STS-121 mission specialist and spacewalker, after arriving at KSC Tuesday with his fellow crewmates.

NEW SUNSPOTS: (spaceweather.com) "Two stunningly beautiful sunspots have exploded into view," says amateur astronomer Greg Piepol who photographed the active regions earlier today: Sunspot 897, in particular, is growing with wild abandon, changing visibly as onlookers watch. Unstable magnetic fields could snap, resulting in solar flares, although so far no explosions have been observed.

SOLAR PUNCTUATION: English teachers, take note: The biggest exclamation point in the solar system is transiting the sun. Larry Alvarez photographed it yesterday from his home in Flower Mound, Texas: This enormous punctuation mark (actually a magnetic filament) stretches 150,000 miles from end-to-end. Imagine the loud, bossy sentence you could make out of that! On a calmer note, magnetic fields holding this filament together appear to be well-anchored. The mark should remain intact and visible to solar telescopes for days to come.

ASTEROID FLYBY: During the early morning hours of Monday, July 3rd, asteroid 2004 XP14 will fly past Earth barely farther away than the Moon. XP14 is large enough (600 meters wide) and bright enough (11th magnitude) to see through backyard telescopes as it races across the star-fields of the Milky Way. There's no danger of a collision, just a nice photo-op for amateur astronomers. [sky map] [ephemeris] [observing tips].

Hubble finds 2nd beta Pictoris disk (via hohmanntransfer.com) :: Detailed images of the nearby star Beta Pictoris, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the existence of not one but two dust disks encircling the star. The images offer tantalizing new evidence for at least one Jupiter-size planet orbiting Beta Pictoris. The finding ends a decade of scientific speculation that an odd warp in the young star's debris disk may actually be another inclined disk.

Earth's Busy Neighborhood :: Not a small asteroid but definitely part of Earth's Busy Neighborhood, 2004 XP14 is inbound for an Earth passage of 1.13 lunar distances on July 3rd UT. This is unusually close for an object of its diameter, estimated to be on the order of 465 meters. Today's DOU reports that the Siding Spring Survey in Australia recovered it yesterday (you can see this data for yourself; look for "packed" designation K04X14P and observatory code E12). This object was for a time listed as an impact risk, and was observed at various times last year up until December 29th, when it had an observing arc of 384 days. Yesterday's work added another 180 days. [See also a news thread on recent passers-by, and check back later for an update with more details.]

Huge Asteroid to Fly Past Earth July 3 :: Asteroid 2004 XP14 is a member of a class of asteroids known as Apollo, which have Earth-crossing orbits. The name comes from 1862 Apollo, the first asteroid of this group to be discovered. There are now 1,989 known Apollos. The size of 2004 XP 14 is not precisely known. But based on its brightness, the diameter is believed to be somewhere in the range of 1,345 to 3,018-feet (410 to 920 meters). That's between a quarter mile and just over a half-mile wide. Due to the proximity of its orbit to Earth [Map] and its estimated size, this object has been classified as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” (PHA) by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are currently 783 PHAs. The latest calculations show that 2004 XP14 will pass closest to Earth at 04:25 UT on July 3 (12:25 a.m. EDT or 9:25 p.m. PDT on July 2). The asteroid’s distance from Earth at that moment will be 268,624 miles (432,308 km), or just 1.1 times the Moon’s average distance from Earth.

2004 XP14 was discovered on 10 Dec. 2004 by LINEAR and announced the next day, which is when JPL posted it with impact solutions. NEODyS posted it on the 12th. On 20 Dec. both risk monitors elevated this object to Torino Scale 1 (a routine alert that an object "merits special monitoring") for an impact solution in 2077, but the following day NEODyS eliminated that solution, which had been its only, and JPL lowered this object to TS-0 ("no likely consequence"). Until it was removed from the SCN Priority List after 9 Jan., 2004 XP14 was noted as being in view until February 23rd, and it was last reported on Jan. 11th. On March 17th it was reported that Mt. John Obs. had caught it the day before, and JPL removed its remaining impact solutions.

MPEC 2004-X44 :: K04X14P* C2004 12 10.45890 11 04 06.44 +34 59 50.3 — Longitude :: 2ø44'18"5 Vir | Latitude :: 26ø35'06"8 | Discover position :: Virgo 3° A glorious vision unfolds over a little struggling family in the wilderness; two mighty angels bringing protection.

 • USA — 04-Jul-1776 XP14 {12GE18} conjunct BENFRANKLIN {11GE57} & BUSCH {13GE51}, opposite ASCENDANT {13SG10} (1776 Seed-Pattern).

 • Cheney — 30-Jan-1941 XP14 {02CP09} conjunct POWELL {01CP15}

 • QB1 — 30-Aug-1992 XP14 {21GE15} conjunct #1949-MESSINA {21GE08}.

 • 911 — 11-Sep-2001 XP14 {10LE48} conjunct HUMPTYDUMPTY {10LE00}, HANK {10LE23} & KLYTAEMNESTRA {10LE59} (Praiseworthy wooing).

 • STS-121 — 01-Jul-2006 XP14 {23TA57} conjunct COMPASSION {22TA48}, APOPHIS {22TA35}, NASA {23TA00}, ADMETOS {24TA04} & NIBIRU {24TA16}.

Tags: nasa, pictoris, spaceweather, sts-121, xp14
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