Tag Archives: space

The Gross Side of Space: What Happens to Dead Skin in Microgravity

Warning: If you are looking for a story about the romance of space travel — the adventure, the wonder, the transcendence of what we know in the name of exploring a great unknown — this is not that. Turn away now.

Still with me? Great. Then here’s something from the other side of space. The less romantic, and in fact vaguely disgusting, side. The side that involves drinking recycled urine and using bathrooms that involve vacuums and trimming moustaches with clippers that resemble medieval torture devices. This one involves skin. Skin which, as it naturally does, sheds.

On Earth, we barely notice that process: Our skin cells molt and and gravity pulls them away from our bodies, conveniently and invisibly. In space, however, there is no gravity to pull the dead cells (technically: the detritus) away. Which means that the detritus, left to its own devices, simply floats. Which, given the fact that multiple astronauts live on the Space Station at the same time, and the fact that even highly trained space travelers might get skeeved out by floating clouds of dead skin, is less than ideal.

In the video above, former ISS denizen Don Pettit describes what happens when, in particular, you take your socks off on the Station. “This cloud, this explosion of skin particles — detritus — floats out,” he says. “And you’re in this weightless environment, and the particles have nowhere to go but out.”

That’s even true of foot calluses — which, after a few months of weightlessness, tend to soften. I’ll leave the details to Pettit, but the bottom line is this: If you ever find yourself living on a space station, make sure the station’s ventilation system works really, really well. Because, as astronaut Mike Massimino warns in the video: “This sounds actually pretty disgusting.”

“Well, it is,” Pettit replies. “But it’s part of being a human.”

Image: NASA

This article originally published at The Atlantic
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/08/01/dead-skin-microgravity/

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Pseudomonas-aeruginosa

When bacteria grows in a dish of fake urine in space, it behaves in ways never-before-seen in Earth microorganisms, scientists say.

A team of scientists sent samples of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa into orbit aboard NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis to see how they grew in comparison to their Earth-dwelling counterparts.

The 3D communities of microorganisms (called biofilms) grown aboard the space shuttle had more live cells, were thicker and had more biomass than the bacterial colonies grown in normal gravity on Earth as controls. The space bacteria also grew in a “column-and-canopy” structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth, according to NASA scientists.

“Biofilms were rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the [International Space Station], but we still don’t really know what role gravity plays in their growth and development,” NASA’s study leader Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said in a statement. “Our study offers the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria, and highlights the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight.”

Most biofilms found in the human body and in nature are harmless, but some are associated with disease, NASA officials said.

The space bacteria were cultured in artificial urine on NASA’s Atlantis shuttle in 2010 and again in 2011 before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program. Collins and her team of researchers used fabricated urine because it can be used to study the formation of biofilm outside and inside the body. Understanding how to safely remove and recycle waste is particularly relevant because of its importance in long-term spaceflight, NASA officials said.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Collins said in a statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Scientists sent 12 devices with eight vials of P. aeruginosa — a bacterium that can be associated with disease on Earth — into orbit on Atlantis. Once in space, astronauts on the shuttle introduced the bacterium to the fake urine while scientists on the ground began the control experiment.

After the samples arrived safely on Earth, Collins and her team took a detailed 3D image of the biofilms to investigate their internal structure, and used other research methods to investigate the colony’s thickness and cell growth.

The study, published in the April 20 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, also could have implications for bacterial research on Earth. It’s possible that this kind of research could help scientists and doctors more effectively limit the spread of infection in hospitals, Collins said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/10/bacteria-growth-space/

Does the Moon Have Levitating Lunar Dust?

Does the Moon Have Levitating Lunar Dust?

Does-the-moon-have-levitating-lunar-dust--ba51520a7f

Did you hear about the new restaurant on the moon? Great food, but no atmosphere.

While that wisecrack has been floating about in space circles for decades, a NASA lunar orbiter will gather detailed information about the moon’s atmosphere next year, including conditions near its surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is to depart the Earth for the moon in August 2013. LADEE is loaded with science gear, including instruments that can address a lingering question that’s rooted in space history: Are electrostatically lofted lunar dust particles present within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere?

Twilight Rays on the Moon

In the 1960s, several NASA Surveyor moon landers relayed images showing a twilight glow low over the lunar horizon persisting after the sun had set. Also, a number of Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon saw twilight rays before lunar sunrise or lunar sunset.

In addition, some have floated the theory that the glowing transient lunar phenomenon seen from Earth might stem from sunlight reflecting off of suspended lunar dust.

LADEE will investigate this moon magic trick of levitating lunar dust. The spacecraft has the tools it needs to address mysteries and questions that have been around since Apollo, said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Ames is responsible for managing the mission, building the spacecraft and performing mission operations.

Elphic told SPACE.com that among its duties, the LADEE mission can further investigate tantalizing hints about the dust and the moon’s exotic atmosphere.

“If we fly LADEE through the regions where the Apollo command module observations were made, we will know right away if there are small grains there or not,” Elphic said. LADEE’s Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) is a very sensitive dust-detecting instrument, he said, and scientists may be able to place new upper limits on the dust in the first week of the spacecraft’s orbiting operations.

Nagging Moon Question

“If LADEE never sees levitated dust, that settles the question for the high-altitude observations, at least for its mission time frame,” Elphic said.

Still, there’s the nagging question about what Surveyor saw, the near-surface horizon glow. “That might be something else entirely, and can only be addressed with a surface mission,” Elphic said.

“If LADEE does see dust, we will then have a basis for expecting the same phenomena at all other ‘nearly-airless’ bodies around the solar system,” Elphic added.

This dust may not pose much of a hazard, Elphic added, but the physics will need to be explained. Right now, no one has a good end-to-end model for getting dust to loft and secondly, stay suspended for long periods, he said.

“If LADEE observes levitated dust, then scientists will have to explain it. Right now, no one can,” Elphic said.

One-Way Trip Off the Moon

One scientist ready for the new data to be gleaned by LADEE is Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17 moonwalker and geologist. He and astronaut Eugene Cernan walked the lunar surface in December 1972 — the last mission of the Apollo moon landings.

“I do not know if LADEE will see lunar dust in the lunar atmosphere, but I will not be surprised if there is none,” Schmitt told SPACE.com. “We know about several transient gases in that atmosphere, and these may be what causes the horizon glow at sunrise and sunset.”

Moon dust, Schmitt added, was always been on his mind.

“My concern about levitated dust has always been that levitation, if it occurs at all, probably has to be a one-way trip off the moon … because many flat rock surfaces are essentially free of very fine dust, as I personally witnessed on Apollo 17.”

Schmitt said that if dust has been levitated and then dropped again, he would expect the rock surfaces to be covered with such dust.

“Nonetheless, LADEE data on this question, as well as various gases, should give us a lot to think about,” Schmitt said.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/nasa-ladee-levitating-lunar-dust/

Most Convincing Evidence Yet For Dark Matter Detection

Most Convincing Evidence Yet For Dark Matter Detection

Scientists have been analyzing high-energy gamma rays originating from the center of the Milky Way and have presented the most convincing case so far that at least some of this may come from dark matter.

Dark matter is a type of matter that is thought to account for apparent effects due to mass where no mass can be observed. It behaves differently to normal matter, such as planets and stars, which only accounts for approximately 5% of the universe. It neither emits nor absorbs light or other forms of electromagnetic energy, so a simple definition is that it is matter that does not react to light. The total mass-energy of the known universe is estimated to contain approximately 27% dark matter.

Using data collected from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, scientists from different institutions generated maps of the center of the galaxy. They found that some of the high-energy gamma rays could not be sufficiently explained by known sources. There are numerous known sources of gamma-rays in the center of the galaxy, such as supernova remnants, but it is also predicted to be rich in dark matter. Although scientists know dark matter exists, they are not entirely sure of what it is composed of. Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs, are a strong candidate. It is thought that collision of WIMPs may produce a quickly decaying particle, which could produce gamma rays detectable by Fermi.

Once they removed all the known sources of gamma rays from the Fermi observations, some emission was leftover. If dark matter particles with a particular mass are destroying each other, this would be a remarkable fit for the remaining emission. Despite this, the scientists err on the side of caution since alternative sources may still exist. Further sightings are also required to make this interpretation more convincing.

The Fermi scientists have also turned elsewhere in an attempt to detect dark matter by looking at dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. Dwarf galaxies are rich in dark matter and lack other types of gamma-ray sources present in the center of the Milky Way which make detection of dark matter problematic. On the flip side, their distance from us and the fact that the dark matter present is still considerably less than that in the center of the Milky Way means that the signals are weak. But according to Elliott Bloom, a member of the Fermi collaboration, “If we ultimately see a significant signal, it could be a very strong confirmation of the dark matter signal claimed in the galactic center.”

While at this stage the signal cannot be confirmed or refuted as dark matter, it represents an exciting step towards the detection of dark matter at the galactic center. 

Check out this YouTube video for an image of the Milky Way with the gamma-ray map from NASA’s Fermi superimposed on top. 

Credit: NASA Goddard; A. Mellinger, CMU; T. Linden, University of Chicago

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/most-convincing-evidence-yet-dark-matter-detection

Planetary Resources 3D Print An Alien Material

Planetary Resources 3D Print An Alien Material

3D printing is capable of some incredible things, from creating huge bridges, prosthetics for amputees, and even human hearts using biological ink. Jumping on this bandwagon, the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources hasbeen flaunting their own attempts at 3D printing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The results are literally out-of-this-world 3D printing, with the companyshowcasing a design forged from asteroid materials.

Planetary Resources raison d’tre is to mine valuable resources from asteroids, which are demonstrably rich sources of metals and compounds including platinum, nickel, iron, and cobalt. Many contain plentiful water, which couldbe converted into rocket fuel and help prolong space missions. Their ultimate aim is to help create a space-based business economy: ambitious for sure, but its CEO, Chris Lewicki, thinks that this will be possible by 2025.

Although this process has yet to begin, Lewicki was determined to have a presence at the world-renowned technological showcase. Using a meteorite that landed in Campo Del Cielo, Argentina, a decorative object has been made out of it, essentially a 3D Planetary Resources logo. The partnership with 3D Systems has resulted in the first-ever direct metal print from asteroid-derived metals.

The 3D-printed logo, made from nickel, iron and cobalt. Credit: Planetary Resources

Explaining the motivation behind the 3D printing to Engadget, Lewicki said: Instead of manufacturing something in an Earth factory and putting it on a rocket and shipping it to space, what if we put a 3D printer into space and everything we printed with it we got from space? There are billions and billions of tons of this material in space.

Despite this world first, the technique used to print the material isnt new. Nevertheless, it does highlight the fact that 3D printing, a clearly versatile technology, can be applied to asteroid-mined materials. NASA is also aware of the possibilities: Officials have previously noted that 3D printing could assist human space exploration, with spacecraft, outposts, and supplies generated on other planets and celestial objects using this exact technique.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/literally-out-world-3d-printing-demonstrated-planetary-resources

Exoplanets Explain Why the 'Dark Side' of the Moon Has No Face

Exoplanets Explain Why the ‘Dark Side’ of the Moon Has No Face

Moon-composite-nasa

A composite image of the Moon.
Image: NASA

Heat radiating from the young Earth could help solve the more than 50-year-old mystery of why the far side of the moon, which faces away from Earth, lacks the dark, vast expanses of volcanic rock that define the face of the Man in the Moon as seen from Earth, researchers say.

The Man in the Moon was born when cosmic impacts struck the near side of the moon, the side that faces Earth. These collisions punched holes in the moon’s crust, which later filled with vast lakes of lava that formed the dark areas known as maria or “seas.”

In 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the “dark” or far side of the moon, the side facing away from Earth, scientists immediately noticed fewer maria there. This mystery — why no Man in the Moon exists on the moon’s far side — is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem.

“I remember the first time I saw a globe of the moon as a boy, being struck by how different the far side looks,” study co-author Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. “It was all mountains and craters. Where were the maria?”

Far Side of the Moon

The farside of the moon, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera.

Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery; heat from the young Earth as the newborn moon was cooling caused the difference. The researchers came up with the solution during their work on exoplanets, which are worlds outside the solar system.

“There are many exoplanets that are really close to their host stars,”lead study author Arpita Roy, also of Penn State, told Space.com. “That really affects the geology of those planets.”

Similarly, the moon and Earth are generally thought to have orbited very close together after they formed. The leading idea explaining the moon’s formation suggests that it arose shortly after the nascent Earth collided with a Mars-size planet about 4.5 billion years ago, with the resulting debris coalescing into the moon. Scientists say the newborn moon and Earth were 10 to 20 times closer to each other than they are now.

“The moon and Earth loomed large in each other’s skies when they formed, ” Roy said in a statement.

Since the moon was so close to Earth, the mutual pull of gravity was strong. The gravitational tidal forces the moon and Earth exerted on each other braked their rotations, resulting in the moon always showing the same face to Earth, a situation known as tidal lock.

The moon and Earth were very hot shortly after the giant impact that formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth, cooled more quickly. Since the moon and Earth were tidally locked early on, the still-hot Earth — more than 4,530 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 degrees Celsius) — would have cooked the near side of the moon, keeping it molten. On the other hand, the far side of the moon would have cooled, albeit slowly.

The difference in temperature between the moon’s halves influenced the formation of its crust. The lunar crust possesses high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.

“When rock vapor starts to cool, the very first elements that snow out are aluminum and calcium,” study co-author Steinn Sigurdsson of Penn State said in a statement.

Aluminum and calcium would have more easily condensed in the atmosphere on the colder far side of the moon. Eventually, these elements combined with silicates in the mantle of the moon to form minerals known as plagioclase feldspars, making the crust of the far side about twice as thick as that of the near side.

“Earthshine, the heat of Earth soon after the giant impact, was a really important factor shaping the moon,” Roy said.

When collisions from asteroids or comets blasted the moon’s surface, they could punch through the near side’s crust to generate maria. In contrast, impacts on the far side’s thicker crust failed to penetrate deeply enough to cause lava to well up, instead leaving the far side of the moon with a surface of valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

“It’s really cool that our understanding of exoplanets is affecting our understanding of the solar system,” Roy said.

Future research could generate detailed 3D models testing this idea, Roy suggested. The authors detailed their findings June 9 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/16/farside-of-the-moon/

NASA Has Released Images Of Real Locations Featured In "The Martian"

NASA Has Released Images Of Real Locations Featured In “The Martian”

NASAhasreleased imagesshowing the real areas of Mars that feature in the Hollywood film and Andy Weir novel “The Martian.”The images were taken by a HiRISE camera onboardNASA’sMars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The first imageshows Acidalia Planitia, the area in the story where the original Ares 3 mission landed and subsequently left NASA astronaut Mark Watney stranded.

Image:Acidalia PlanitiaThe Ares 3 mission landing site. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The other image, below, shows a shallow crater in the southwestern corner of the Schiaparelli crater, named after Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli.In the story, this is the area in which Watney has to travel 3,200 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) toin the hope he can be saved by the Ares 4 mission. According to NASA,this area is likely to be covered in “at least a meter thick” layer of red dust.

Image: The Schiaparelli craterThe Ares 4 mission landing site. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken more than 39,000 images with theHiRISE camera since 2006. Each image covers an area of several miles and can pick up details smaller than a car. Although dont zoom in looking for Matt Damon, weve already tried.

A large bulk of the HiRISE images are available to view for free online. Another cool feature NASA has released is an online suggestion box for sites you want their HiRISE camera to photograph next.

Read this next:Physics Duo Wins The Nobel Prize For Solving Longstanding Neutrino Puzzle

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-release-images-real-location-featured-martian

China to Launch First Space-Based Quantum Communications Experiment

China to Launch First Space-Based Quantum Communications Experiment

Satellite

The “Chinese Quantum Science Satellite” will launch in 2016 and aim to make China the first space-faring nation with quantum communication capability.

The ability to send perfectly secure messages from one location on the planet to another has obvious and immediate appeal to governments, the military and various commercial organizations such as banks. This capability is already possible over short distances thanks to the magic of quantum cryptography, which guarantees the security of messages — at least in theory.

For the moment, however, quantum cryptography works only over distances of 100 km or so. That’s how far it is possible to send the single photons that carry quantum messages through an optical fiber or through the atmosphere.

Last year, we watched as European and Chinese physicists battled to claim the distance record for this technology with the Europeans finally triumphing by setting up a quantum channel over 143 kilometers through the atmosphere.

That distance is a good fraction of the way into space. And the reason that’s important is that it’s a stepping stone to sending quantum messages to orbiting satellites which can then route the messages to almost anywhere else on the planet.

Today, the Chinese claim another small victory in this quantum space race. Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai and his fellow researchers say they’ve bounced single photons off an orbiting satellite and detected them back on Earth. That’s significant because it simulates a satellite sending single photons from orbit to the surface, crossing off another proof-of-principle milestone in their quantum checklist.

The experiment is simple in principle. These guys have two telescopes in a binocular formation which they pointed at a satellite orbiting at an altitude of 400 kilometers. This satellite is covered with reflectors capable of bouncing a laser beam from Earth back to its original location.


Image courtesy of “Experimental Single-Photon Transmission from Satellite to Earth”

They used one of the telescopes to send pulses of light towards the satellite and the other, with a diameter of 60 cm, to look for the reflection.

Of course, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs a very high percentage of the photons transmitted from the ground. So Pan and his team produced each pulse with just enough photons so that, on average, just one would reach the satellite and be reflected back to Earth. The idea was to simulate the satellite itself sending single photons to the surface.

Each pulse began its journey from Earth with about 1 billion photons and, on average, just one started the return journey. Obviously, many of the returning photons would also be absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. So the pulse was repeated many millions of times per second.

Pan and his team say that they were able to detect the returning photons at a rate of about 600 per second. “These results are suf?cient to set up an unconditionally secure QKD link between satellite and earth, technically,” they add in the paper that accompanies their research.

That’s a significant stepping stone. “Our results represent a crucial step towards the ?nal implementation of high-speed QKD between the satellite and the ground stations, which will also serve as a test bed for secure intercontinental quantum communication,” the team says.

However, this experiment raises something of a puzzle. The researchers say they used a German satellite called CHAMP for their experiment. The satellite launched in 2000, and its mission was to make a precise gravity map of the Earth by bouncing lasers off it.

What’s curious about the Chinese announcement is that CHAMP deorbited in 2010. So a question worth asking is when the team did this work. Clearly, the team has been sitting on this result for some time.

Why publish it now? The answer may be a small but significant detail revealed in the final paragraph of the paper. Here Pan and his colleagues announce that they plan to launch the first quantum science experiment into space. The spacecraft is called the Chinese Quantum Science Satellite and it is scheduled for launch in 2016.

A quick Google search shows that the official Chinese news agency, Xinhau, revealed in March that its scientists were planning a quantum information and technology space experiment. But the announcement did not give the name of the satellite and appears to have had little if any coverage in the west.

‘We hope to establish a quantum communication network from Beijing to Vienna,” according to Pan, a plan that will presumably require significant co-operation from their arch-competitors in Europe.

Last year, European scientists themselves proposed sending a quantum communications experiment to the International Space Station, an idea that could be beat the Chinese at their own game and would be relatively cheap and quick. But whether this plan has gained traction isn’t clear.

What is abundantly clear is that the quantum space race is rapidly hotting up. But the embarrassing truth for American science is that the U.S. isn’t yet a player in the quantum space race (at least not publicly). Perhaps that’s something that should change.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/11/china-quantum-communications/

Tour the Solar System with Dazzling Astronomy App

Tour the Solar System with Dazzling Astronomy App

Tour-the-solar-system-with-dazzling-astronomy-app-video--f4ff6f1599

Have you ever dreamed of traveling through space? Alas, you might never be able to do it for real. But luckily, there’s an app for that.

Solar Walk, an app for the iPad, let’s you explore the solar system in 3D on your tablet. No need for rockets, spaceships or zero-gravity. Now you can see a reproduction of Jupiter’s rings from the comfort of your couch. And it’s not just about exploring, the app has a lot of information on every planet and satellite to satisfy the appetites of the space geeks out there.

You can also plug your iPad to your 3D HDTV and explore the universe in stunning 3D on your TV. All you need is an HDMI cable and an adapter.

Developed by Vito Technology, the app is available for $4.99 on the App Store. To find out more about this exciting app, check out the video above.

Photo courtesy of Vito Technology

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/26/tour-space-app/