Tag Archives: World

Packing for Interstellar Space Voyage: What to Bring?

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Contemplating the idea of a manned voyage to another star raises many confounding questions, including one that has been around since the days of the first travelers: What to pack?

To build a closed environment that can sustain astronauts and perhaps their descendants during the long mission is going to require many kinds of technological innovations, some of them needed just to clothe the interstellar travelers, said Karl Aspelund, a professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design at the University of Rhode Island.

“The longest time anyone has been in space is around 400 days. Now we’re suddenly talking years, decades, possibly even generations,” Aspelund said last week at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, a conference about interstellar space travel. “That changes everything.”

An interstellar mission is most likely going to be a very extended trip, considering the nearest stars are light-years away. Aspelund estimated that every person aboard a ship on a 30-year voyage would need to pack about 100 cubic feet of clothing. For 10 people, that means enough clothes to fill a railcar. Based on current launch costs, so much mass could add $18 million to $36 million to the price tag for the mission simply for shirts, pants and underwear, he calculated.

Clearly, future astronauts will have to pack lighter.

“We might have to rethink the idea of clothing altogether,” Aspelund said. “We might have to really re-evaluate what constitutes being dressed and undressed.”

Aspelund is only half joking when he contemplates sending spaceflyers onto a starship naked. He concedes there are good reasons ? culturally as well as individually ? why humans couldn’t just discard clothes on an interstellar mission.

But researchers will need to find ways for clothes (and everything else astronauts pack) to be used sustainably, he says.

So far NASA hasn’t figured out many good ways to do laundry in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station have been known to rarely change outfits.

“It’s basically a flying dorm room, by the sound of it,” Aspelund said of the space station. “The solution to keeping things clean is exactly the dorm room solution: You stuff it into a hole and you never see it again. That’s not so good if you’re not going to be coming back, or if you’re going to be out there for years.”

Aspelund plans to write a grant and collaborate with other researchers on the issue of cosmic duds and space laundry. The solutions may require completely different types of textiles that are more durable and recyclable, or new ways to clean existing materials.

On an even deeper level, the issue forces people to question just what items are essential for life on Earth and whether those same items are essential in space.

“We have things that are absolutely critical to our well-being on the planet,” Aspelund said. “This project, the 100 Year Starship, inspires a completely fresh look. Suddenly we step back from Earthly concerns.”

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/26/packing-for-space-voyage/

Comet, Earth and Mercury Seen Together in Rare Video

A new video from a NASA spacecraft studying the sun has captured an unexpected sight: a wandering comet posing with the planets Earth and Mercury.

The cosmic view comes from one of NASA’s twin Stereo spacecraft that constantly watch the sun for signs of solar flares and other space weather events. It shows Mercury and Earth as they appeared with the Comet Pan-STARRS, a comet that is currently visible from the Northern Hemisphere during evening twilight.

The probe captured the video of Comet Pan-STARRS, Earth and Mercury together while observing the sun from March 9 to March 12.

According to a NASA description, the video “shows the comet and its fluttering tail as it moves through space.” The Earth appears as a bright stationary object on the right side of the video, while Mercury is visible as a moving light on the left side.

The sun is actually out of the frame in the Stereo-B spacecraft’s video, but its solar wind is visible as a stream of material, NASA officials explained. Meanwhile, the view of Comet Pan-STARRS from space is giving scientists a wealth of data to review, they added.

“Comet scientists say the tail looks quite complex and it will take computer models to help understand exactly what’s happening in STEREO’s observations,” agency officials said in a video description. “The comet should remain visible to the naked eye through the end of March.”

Comet Pan-STARRS is currently visible to stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere just after sunset. To see the comet, look low on the western horizon just after the sun has gone down. Comet Pan-STARRS can appear as a bright head with a wispy trail, weather permitting, though some stargazers have said the bright evening twilight can make spotting it tricky.

The Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered in June 2011 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii. The comet’s official name is C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS).

Scientists estimate that Comet Pan-STARRS takes more than 100 million years to orbit the sun once. The comet crossed into the Northern Hemisphere evening sky last week after months of being visible to observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

NASA’s twin Stereo A and B spacecraft (the name is short for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) observe the sun in tandem to provide unparalleled views of how material from solar eruptions makes its way to Earth. The spacecraft launched in 2006 and are part of a fleet of sun-watching spacecraft that monitor solar storms.

Comet Pan-STARRS is one of several comets gracing the night sky in 2013. Pan-STARRS was joined by the Comet Lemmon earlier this year when both were visible together in the Southern Hemisphere sky. Later this year, the sungrazing Comet ISON could put on a potentially dazzling display when it makes its closest approach to the sun in late November.

Homepage image courtesy of Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/03/15/comet-earth-mercury-video/

Amazing Photo Shows Saturn Dwarfing Tiny Moon

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A jaw-dropping picture of the planet Saturn was recently released by NASA’s Cassini probe orbiting the ringed giant.

The black-and-white photo shows the gas giant tilted, with its iconic rings draping striking shadows against the planet’s atmosphere.

A faint dot in the top middle of the image, which you might be forgiven for thinking was a speck on your monitor, is actually Saturn’s moon Mimas. The moon, at 246 miles (396 kilometers) across, is dwarfed by its much larger parent. When seen up close, Mimas is dominated by a giant crater on one side that gives it a strong resemblance to the Death Star in the “Star Wars” films.

The darker dapples along Saturn‘s face are violent storms that rage in the planet’s hydrogen and helium atmosphere, researchers said.

Cassini’s view of Saturn looks up at the unilluminated side of its rings from an angle of about 18 degrees below the ring plane. The north side of the planet itself is up and rotated 27 degrees to the left.

Cassini launched in 1997 along with the Huygens lander. Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and dropped Huygens onto the surface of Saturn’s huge moon Titan in January 2005. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Just last month, Cassini celebrated the 15th anniversary of its launch, and it has logged more than 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion km) during its time in space. The probe has taken more than 300,000 images of the Saturnian system, which includes the ringed planet and its more than 60 known moons.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/07/saturn-tiny-moon-photo/

Facebook Stats Reveal Men Most Interested in Mars Rover Landing

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As space enthusiasts worldwide tuned in online to watch and follow the historic landing of the NASA rover Curiosity on Mars earlier this week, Facebook found that men were significantly more interested in the event than females.

Although Facebook didn’t provide percentages for the male to female ratio, it said men ranked 6.08 on a buzz scale of one to 10, compared to an overall score for women of 4.76.

Using a tool called the Talk Meter, Facebook examined how much buzz the Mars landing generated across the social network and noted trends in age, demographic and location. It tracked search terms such as “Curiosity” and “Mars” and conducted searches during the time period that the rover landed around 10:00 p.m. PT.

“We looked at the increase in the fraction of chatter containing these terms compared to the baseline, which is what the chatter was for these terms one week before,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. “We take the difference in fractions and hit it with a logarithm scale (1-10).”

Although teenagers expressed the least interest in the landing, Facebook said buzz surrounding Curiosity occurred across all adult age ranges. It was most popular among the 25 to 34 age group.

Due to the local timing, chatter was significantly higher in the Western part of the United States with California, Oregon and Washington state bringing in the most general interest on Facebook. But Washington, D.C. — the home of NASA’s headquarters — brought in similar scores to California, and spikes were also seen in Utah and Colorado.

Meanwhile, U.S. Facebook members cheered on their home country’s journey to Mars more than any other nation, bringing in a buzz score of (5.45). Facebook users from Canada (5.37) showed the second most interest, followed by Costa Rica (5.29), New Zealand (4.94), Australia (4.88), China (4.54) and Israel (4.53).

European countries didn’t top the list because most were asleep while the events took place, Facebook noted.

To put those scores in perspective, Facebook did previous analysis on other major events such as the Royal Wedding in the U.K. (8.4), the U.S. Super Bowl (8.7) and the Hunger Games premiere (6.4).

Did you use social media to follow the rover landing? Which sites did you use? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS: Curiosity Lands on Mars: NASA’s Behind the Scenes Images

You Should Follow Iran’s New President on Twitter

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Iran’s new president is quite the tweeter.

On Monday morning alone, Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani tweeted around 50 times, most of which were in English. The tweeting blitz coincided with a press conference, where he said he will work to end the sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy by attempting to negotiate with the U.S. and its allies. He is expected to take office in early August.

The Western-educated cleric is clearly attempting to get the attention of the outside world and bolster hope for a resolution on the country’s nuclear program. If Rouhani comes off as more moderate and sensible, U.S. and European officials might be willing to engage with the new leader.

Already, U.S. officials are publicly saying they are hopeful for the new elections, as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday the election is a “great opportunity.” Elected as a moderate voice, his overwhelming election was based on reform and change, away from hardliners who he said brought on the crippling sanctions.

But skeptics say this is a previously used strategy on the part of the Iranians: attempt new negotiations, most likely with Europe, while simultaneously expanding its nuclear program. Rouhani even described this strategy in 2004, while also touting Iran’s attempts at splitting Europe and the U.S. on nuclear negotiations. You might already see hints of that strategy in his Twitter feed:

Here are more of his tweets:

Image via ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

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This article originally published at National Journal
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/17/iran-president-twitter/

Curiosity Rover’s Next Mars Adventure: Mount Sharp

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NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.

Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.

While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.

“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.

Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.

Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).

“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”


Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.

Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.

The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.

Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.

“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”

Images courtesy of NASA

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/06/nasa-curiosity-mount-sharp/

SpaceX’s Record-Setting Grasshopper Flight Caught on Drone Camera

Private spaceflight company SpaceX has been testing its Grasshopper rocket over the past few months, but it set a record last week with its latest launch in which it flew 2,440.94 feet in the air — the vehicle’s highest leap yet.

Using a single camera hexacopter drone, SpaceX was able to get closer than ever to record the video above, which the company released Monday. As the rocket climbed gracefully into the air, the drone camera — which you can see in the right-hand corner of the frame — adjusted to capture the seemingly slow launch. Grasshopper soared in an almost-perfect straight line — quite different from its August launch, when it leapt sideways.

The 10-story-high Grasshopper is one of SpaceX’s most outside-the-box experiments. Most rockets burn up when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, but Grasshopper is a reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle built to withstand these harsh conditions and return to the planet’s surface intact.

Grasshopper holds the first-stage tank of the Falcon 9 rocket, which boosts SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Releases Inspiring Video of Dragon’s Historic Journey Through Space

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SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.

The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.


Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.

SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of SpaceX

BONUS: SpaceX and NASA’s Historic Dragon Capsule ISS Docking in Pictures

Incredible Video Captures Magical-Looking Sun Storm

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The sun fired off a spectacular eruption last weekend, and a NASA spacecraft captured amazing video of the violent solar outburst.

A super-hot solar filament erupted in grand style Saturday (Aug. 4), arcing into space and connecting two huge sunspots. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft had a front-row seat for the action, and its video footage of the sun eruption is both bizarre and beautiful.

The filament appears pinkish-purple through SDO’s ultraviolet filters, and it stands out against a solar surface of mottled green, yellow and dark purple hues.

The tendril’s hot plasma snakes between the sunspots AR 1538 and AR 1540. Sunspots are temporary blotches on the sun that appear dark because they’re cooler than the rest of the solar surface. Solar flares and massive blasts of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) often erupt from sunspots, which can be many times larger than the Earth’s diameter.

The Aug. 4 outburst also propelled an enormous CME into space. CMEs that hit Earth directly can wreak havoc, temporarily disrupting GPS communications, satellite navigation and power grids. But Saturday’s solar storm shouldn’t pose any serious problems, scientists said.

“The cloud is not heading directly toward Earth, but it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field on August 7/8,” the website Spaceweather.com wrote. “High-latitude skywatchers should be alert for auroras on those dates.”

The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, and it should continue to fire off big storms for a while yet. Experts expect the current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, to peak in 2013.

The $850 million SDO spacecraft, which launched in February 2010, is the first in a fleet of NASA efforts to study our sun. The probe’s five-year mission is the cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living with a Star, which aims to help scientists better understand aspects of the sun-Earth system that affect our lives and society.

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/10/video-sun-storm/

Elusive Dark Energy Is Real

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Dark energy, the mysterious substance thought to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, almost certainly exists despite some astronomers’ doubts, a new study says.

After a two-year study, an international team of researchers concludes that the probability of dark energy being real stands at 99.996%. But the scientists still don’t know what the stuff is.

“Dark energy is one of the great scientific mysteries of our time, so it isn’t surprising that so many researchers question its existence,” co-author Bob Nichol, of the University of Portsmouth in Engalnd, said in a statement. “But with our new work we’re more confident than ever that this exotic component of the universe is real — even if we still have no idea what it consists of.”

The Roots of Dark Energy

Scientists have known since the 1920s that the universe is expanding. Most assumed that gravity would slow this expansion gradually, or even cause the universe to begin contracting one day.

(SPACE.com)

But in 1998, two separate teams of researchers discovered that the universe’s expansion is actually speeding up. In the wake of this shocking find — which earned three of the discoverers the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 — researchers proposed the existence of dark energy, an enigmatic force pushing the cosmos apart.

Dark energy is thought to make up 73% of the universe, though no one can say exactly what it is. (Twenty-three percent of the universe is similarly strange dark matter, scientists say, while the remaining 4% is “normal” matter that we can see and feel.)

Still, not all astronomers are convinced that dark energy is real, and many have been trying to confirm its existence for the past decade or so.

Hunting for Dark Energy

One of the best lines of evidence for the existence of dark energy comes from something called the Integrated Sachs Wolfe effect, researchers said.

In 1967, astronomers Rainer Sachs and Arthur Wolfe proposed that light from the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation — the thermal imprint left by the Big Bang that created our universe — should become slightly bluer as it passes through the gravitational fields of lumps of matter.

Three decades later, other researchers ran with the idea, suggesting astronomers could look for these small changes in the light’s energy by comparing the temperature of the distant CMB radiation with maps of nearby galaxies.

If dark energy doesn’t exist, there should be no correspondence between the two maps. But if dark energy is real, then, strangely, the CMB light should be seen to gain energy as it moves through large lumps of mass, researchers said.

This latter scenario is known as the Integrated Sachs Wolfe effect, and it was first detected in 2003. However, the signal is relatively weak, and some astronomers have questioned if it’s really strong evidence for dark energy after all.

Re-examining the Data

In the new study, the researchers re-examine the arguments against the Integrated Sachs Wolfe detection, and they update the maps used in the original work.

In the end, the team determined that there is a 99.996% chance that dark energy is responsible for the hotter parts of the CMB maps, researchers said.

“This work also tells us about possible modifications to Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” said lead author Tommaso Giannantonio, of Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. “The next generation of cosmic microwave background and galaxy surveys should provide the definitive measurement, either confirming general relativity, including dark energy, or even more intriguingly, demanding a completely new understanding of how gravity works,” Giannantonio added.

The team’s findings have been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Esoastronomy

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/15/dark-energy/