Tag Archives: space

How Aliens Are Dealing With the Government Shutdown

While furloughed employees may seem to be getting the brunt of the government shutdown, our neighbors to the north are also feeling the backlash — and by north, we mean waaay north.

In this comic, artist Nick Seluk from The Awkward Yeti imagines that our favorite space-dwellers are wondering what’s up with all the empty tourist spots in Washington, D.C.


Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than We Thought


A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Space-Time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.


Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Warp-Drive Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

Image courtesy of Harold White

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/warp-drive-may-be-more-feasible-than-we-thought/

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon


There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days


The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/

5 Craters That Look Like Other Things


What Is This Weird “Snail Trail” Found On Pluto?

NASAs New Horizons spacecraft has beamed down an image appearing to show a snail trail across Plutos icy wilderness.

The image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was taken on July 14,2015, however the data only reached Earth on Christmas Eve 2015. The image shows Sputnik Planum, the 20-kilometer-wide (12-mile-wide)icy plain of Pluto.

Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t think the blob is actually a snail. They say the black cosmic-gastropod is actually a dirty block of water ice being pulled through denser solid nitrogen by currents caused by density differences.The X junction is most likely to be ridged margins,according to NASA, which are raised by about 100 meters (328 feet).

This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp,if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, Hudson Bay, William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, said on the NASA website.

You can check out the full-sized mosaic of Plutos icy plain imageshere.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/what-weird-snail-trail-found-pluto

6 Surprising Facts About World’s Most Powerful Radio Telescope


The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the world’s most powerful observatory for studying the universe at the long-wavelength millimeter and submillimeter range of light. It’s designed to spot some of the most distant, ancient galaxies ever seen, and to probe the areas around young stars for planets in the process of forming.

The opening of the $1.3 billiontelescope array is being celebrated in an inauguration ceremony on Wednesday (March 13) at its observation site in Chile’s Atacama desert. Here are six things you should know about the ambitious, not to mention immense, astronomy project.

1. It Is Ginormous

ALMA combines the forces of 66 radio antennas, most almost 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter, to create images comparable to those that could be obtained with a single 46,000-foot-wide (14,000 meters) dish.

The observatory is accurate enough to discern a golf ball 9 miles (15 kilometers) away.

2. It Took a Decade to Build

The telescope is a collaboration of four continents, being sponsored by countries in North America, Europe and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile. Planning and constructing the observatory took thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world more than 10 years.

3. ALMA Is One High Eye on the Sky

The observatory is among the highest instruments on Earth, at an altitude of 16,570 feet (5,050 meters) above sea level. Its perch high atop the Chajnantor plateau puts it above much of the Earth’s atmosphere, which blurs and distorts light.

4. It’s in the Driest Place on Earth

ALMA’s location in Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, means almost every night is clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture. Some weather stations in the desert have never received rain, and scientists think the Atacama got no significant rainfall between 1570 and 1971.

5. ALMA Dishes Are Nearly Perfect

The surfaces of its dozens of radio dishes are almost perfect, with none deviating from an exact parabola by more than 20 micrometers (20 millionths of a meter, or about 0.00078 inches). This prevents any incoming radio waves from being lost, so that the resulting picture captures as much distant cosmic light as possible. The radio dishes, which weigh about 100 tons each, are made of ultra-stable CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) for the reflector base, with reflecting panels of rhodium-coated nickel.

6. This Is One Cool Telescope — Literally

The electronic detector called the “front end” that amplifies and converts the radio signals collected at each ALMA antenna must be kept at a chilling 4 Kelvin ( minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 269 degrees Celsius), to prevent introducing noise to the signal.

Ultimately, the ground-breaking observatory promises to reveal many new secrets of the cosmos — not to mention some really pretty pictures.

Image courtesy of ESO/B. Tafreshi

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/03/11/facts-chile-radio-telescope/

Latest Mars Photo Shows Curiosity’s Tracks From Space


NASA’s newest Mars rover Curiosity is taking its first tentative drives across the Martian surface and leaving tracks that have been spotted all the way from space in a spectacular photo snapped by an orbiting spacecraft.

The newview of Curiosity’s tracks from space was captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and released today. It shows the rover as a bright, boxy vehicle at the end of two tracks that create a single zig-zag pattern in the Martian surface.

Another photo from the MRO spacecraft spotted the car-size Curiosity rover’s parachute and protective backshell, which were jettisoned by the rover during its Aug. 5 landing. A previous photo by MRO taken on Curiosity’s actual landing day captured an image of theMars rover hanging from its parachute.

Scientists used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on the MRO spacecraft to take the new photos, which have created a buzz among the Curiosity rover’s science team.

“The HiRISE camera on MRO continues to take amazing photographs of Mars, and of us on Mars,” said Mike Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a briefing today.

The photo of Curiosity also includes the rover’s landing spot and shows the scorch marks left behind by the rockets on the sky crane that lowered the rover to the Martian surface.

“It’s a great image of where we stand relative to the touchdown point now,” Watkins said.

This isn’t the first time the MRO spacecraft has captured views of rovers on Mars. The orbiter repeatedly observed NASA’s smaller Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity as they explored the Martian surface following their own landings in January 2004. The Spirit rover’s mission was declared over last year, but Opportunity continues to rover across the Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.

The Mars rover Curiosity took its first drive on Mars on Aug. 22 and completed its longest drive, a 100-foot trek, on Sept. 4. So far, the rover has driven a total of 358 feet on Mars, but is actually just 69 feet away from its landing site due to the turns the rover has performed along the way.

Mission scientists have also tested the rover’s mast-mounted cameras and laser, which is used to study the composition of Martian rocks, and are preparing a weeklong set of tests to calibrate Curiosity’s instrument-tipped robotic arm.

NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is designed to spend the next two years exploring the vast Gale Crater on Mars to determine if the area could have once supported microbial life. Mission scientists also plan to send the rover up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising up from the center of the crater.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/06/nasa-photo-curiosity-tracks/

Astronauts Will Have Thanksgiving Feast in Space


Turkey and all the trimmings are a staple for Americans on Thanksgiving, and that doesn’t have to change for Americans in space.

Astronaut food has come a long way from the early days of human spaceflight, and crewmembers on the International Space Station these days can enjoy many Turkey Day traditions, such as cornbread stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, cherry blueberry cobbler, and, of course, turkey itself.

This year, NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, commander of the space station’s Expedition 34 mission, will celebrate with his Russian crewmates Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy.

“Thanksgiving is not a holiday that the Russians celebrate, but we have found that on orbit the crewmembers celebrate each others’ holidays,” said Vickie Kloeris, manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “They will take part in Kevin Ford’s celebration of Thanksgiving, just as American crewmembers will take part in some of the Russian holidays.”

The space station’s Thanksgiving delicacies will come in somewhat different forms than what may be on most holiday tables, though. Space food falls into two categories: freeze-dried (just add water) or thermostabilized (comes in a pouch). And all food sent to the space station has to meet certain microbiological requirements and have a sufficient shelf life.

For example, the cornbread dressing on offer is a replacement for the traditional bread-based stuffing that many people are used to. However, break makes too many crumbs that float around in all directions in weightlessness and are difficult to clean up.

Still, the current Thanksgiving menu is a huge improvement over what earlier space travelers had available.

“If you want to go all the way back to Mercury and Gemini, there were no holiday meals back then,” Kloeris told SPACE.com. “All you had was cube foods and tube foods. We’ve definitely expanded greatly the amount of traditional items that we have made available for holiday times, and that only makes sense because when we started having crewmembers stay on space station long term, we knew every year we’d be hitting Thanksgiving and Christmas with somebody.”

In addition to the standard holiday menu items, each astronaut gets a certain number of “bonus containers” to pack whatever particular foods they’d like, provided they meet the basic requirements. Most pack off-the-shelf products like cookies and other treats.

“We have crewmembers who take icing in tubs and cookies, and they’ll ice them at Christmas time,” Kloeris said. “We’ve even had crewmembers take food coloring so they could color the icing.”

The importance of having traditional holiday foods varies from crewmember to crewmember, she said. “That’s always evident when they go to plan their bonus containers. You immediately know who has the strongest ties to holiday food because they’ll be the first ones to bring up the fact that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be up there at Christmas.'”

Each of the holiday foods that are provided by NASA have made it through a thorough vetting process.

It starts with a basic recipe for, say, cherry blueberry cobbler. Then the NASA food scientists modify the recipe so that it can be packed in pouches, which is similar to canning. After that, they test its texture, color, and taste.

“When it goes through the thermostabilizing process, the chemistry of the food changes quite a bit,” Kloeris said. “Often what happens is we’ll take a formulation and we’ll try it afterwards, and it’s like, ‘No, that’s not acceptable.'”

The scientists often have to go through many iterations of a recipe, including scaling it up so it still tastes good if made in large batches, before a food is ready for orbit. And some recipes just never quite make it.

“We tried for a while to come up with thermostabilized cheesecake, and we just flat gave up on it,” Kloeris said. “The color changes we got were just too severe. Not everything works.”

But other foods that are stereotypically associated with space are actually rarely eaten there.

“The freeze-dried ice cream actually only flew once” on an Apollo mission, when a crewmember requested it, Kloeris said. “It’s more like hard cotton candy. Certainly if [astronauts] wanted to request that they could, but that’s not something that adults want. Kids like it; they sell it at the gift shop.”

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/21/astronauts-thanksgiving-space/

Hubble Telescope Image Reveals a Cross Section of the Cosmos


An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history.
Image: NASA, ESA

A new photo from NASA’s Hubble space telescope captures a variety of celestial objects both near and far, providing a glimpse of many different stages of cosmic history all at once.

The Hubble image, released April 17, is a 14-hour exposure that shows objects about 1 billion times fainter than the naked eye can make out, researchers said. Most of the galaxies visible in the photo lie less than 5 billion light-years away, but some objects are much more distant.

For example, the photo shows a quasar located 9 billion light-years from Earth, meaning it has taken about two-thirds of the universe’s history for the object’s light to reach Hubble. (The Big Bang that created the universe occurred 13.8 billion years ago.)

The most luminous objects in the universe, quasars are incredibly bright galactic cores powered by supermassive black holes that contain millions of times more mass than the sun.

The light from the distant quasar in the Hubble photo is being bent and amplified by a galaxy cluster that lies closer to Earth along the line of sight from this planet — a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This cluster, known as CLASS B1608+656, is visible as a small loop near the center of the image.

CLASS B1608+656 isn’t the only lensing object in the new photo, which combines observations in visible and infrared light.

Two galaxies — dubbed Fred and Ginger, but more formally known as ACS J160919+6532 and ACS J160910+6532, respectively — are also warping spacetime enough to distort the light emitted by objects behind them, researchers said.

Both Fred and Ginger appear close to CLASS B1608+656 in the Hubble photo. But only Fred is actually close to the cluster, researchers said; Ginger is much nearer to Earth.

The Hubble image is new to the general public but not to scientists, who have studied it extensively over the years. It was spotted by Adam Kill during the 2012 Hubble’s Hidden Treasures competition, which invited contestants to identify the most interesting and beautiful Hubble photos that a wide audience has yet to see.

The iconic Hubble Space Telescope, a joint effort involving NASA and the European Space Agency, launched in April 1990. Astronauts repaired and upgraded the orbiting instrument five times over the years using the now-grounded space shuttle, sharpening Hubble’s vision considerably.

Officials have said they plan to operate Hubble through at least 2020. That would allow some scientific overlap with the telescope’s successor, NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently scheduled to launch in 2018.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/22/hubble-telescope-universe/