Tag Archives: space

Curiosity Rover Makes First Foursquare Check-in on Mars

Curiosity-rover-makes-first-foursquare-check-in-on-mars-61d3b7381d

Curiosity is NASA’s most digitally savvy rover yet. She tweets regularly, posts her pictures and now she is the first Foursquare user to ever check in on Mars.

Curiosity’s first check-in was today at the Gale Crater, where she made her first landing on the night of Aug. 5. Located on the equator of Mars, the Gale Crater is home to the 3-mile high Mount Sharp and is Curiosity’s primary target as it holds billions of years of Martian history.

Curiosity will continue to check in and share updates throughout her 23-month expedition.

“Like any great trip, you want to share with your friends back home, so that is why the rover is sharing check-ins and tips from her amazing trip,” says Stephanie L. Smith, who is part of the three-woman team that runs Curiosity’s social media.

Since Curiosity is the first to post from the Red Planet, she will regularly give travel tips for future space tourists.

“Mars is cold, dry and rocky. Extra moisturizer and sturdy shoes would be a good idea, plus oxygen for those of you who breathe,” she posted along with a snapshot of the desert-like landscape.

Curiosity’s next check-in will be from Rocknest, another point within the Gale Crater where the rover will be parked for the next two weeks to conduct various experiments.

“We’ll start getting to more specific locations within the crater,” says Veronica McGregor, social media manager at NASA. “We may not do daily check-ins for each drive, but we will be able to do check-ins and tips for locations after we name them.”

Curiosity’s Foursquare tips will be a mix of science and humor. “We’re having fun with these tips,” says NASA social media specialist Courtney O’Connor. “We have to consider things like atmosphere, temperature and things we don’t normally think about on Earth. We have to put ourselves into her point of view. You have to get into character.”

So far, the rover has checked in two times today. She only has one more check-in until she becomes mayor of Gale Crater — an honor that, McGregor says, is well-deserved.

“If anyone should be mayor, it’s that rover.”

Bonus: Mars Curiosity’s First Tracks

Is Jupiter Earth’s Friend or Foe?

Jupiter1

Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, ducks behind the red giant once every seven days.

Is Jupiter a friendly planet, Earth’s enemy, or perhaps both? For decades, scientists have talked about how the giant gas planet keeps some asteroids from striking our small world, while others have pointed out that Jupiter’s gravity could send some civilization-shattering asteroids our way.

While that debate goes on, a subtler question arises about how influential Jupiter was in the early Solar System. Jupiter is by far the heavyweight planet in the Solar System, weighing in at 320 Earth masses. Its gravity not only influences small asteroids that go by, but also tugs on other planets in the solar system – including our own.

What if Jupiter had had a more eccentric orbit? Could that have affected the habitability of Earth? A new peer-reviewed study published on preprint site Arxiv, called “The role of Jupiter in driving Earth’s orbital evolution,” examines these questions in more detail. It was presented at the Australian Space Science Conference.

At first blush it appears Jupiter’s position in the solar system could vary greatly without hurting life’s beginnings as we know it, but more studies of how other planets influence Earth’s climate are needed before we can better understand what’s going on, the researchers said. Depending on how Jupiter interacts with Earth in different scenarios, Earth’s orbit could vary dramatically, thereby influencing the amount of sun we receive on the surface. Once we begin to figure out the ranges of habitability in the models, this could help us narrow the search for other habitable planets outside the Solar System that have gas giants nearby.

Life-friendly scenarios

Surveys with NASA’s Kepler space telescope and other observatories reveal one great truth about planets: they tend to form in groups. Most planets outside the solar system are found with companions. We’ve also seen an array of planetary systems, including those where gas giants known as “Hot Jupiters” are close to their parent star.

The search for habitability is often focused on finding rocky planets or moons similar in size to the Earth, and ones orbiting at the right distance from a star to make liquid water possible. However, other factors include the variability of a planet’s orbit, or the tilt of its poles, both of which could be influenced by bigger planets in that planet’s solar system.

Researchers got interested in the effects of nearby planets on life after observing the Moon.

“I started looking at the effects of the moon on Earth’s climate,” said University of London geologist David Waltham, a co-author of the study. “It’s often said the moon stabilizes the Earth’s axis. It’s wrong. It actually nearly destabilizes the axis.”

Certainly, if you suddenly took the Moon away, the Earth’s axis would destabilize. But Waltham said the better question is to ask what would happen if there was a larger moon from the beginning.

“Any initially stable planet will eventually become unstable as its spin slows but, without a moon, this could take tens or hundreds of billions of years,” Waltham said.

“Having a moon increases the rate with which the spin slows so that, in Earth’s case for example, it will only take 6 billion years (from formation) for the Earth’s axis to become unstable.”

In a nutshell, taking the Moon away today is not the same thing as not having a Moon in the first place.  We’ve had 4.5 billion years of lunar-generated spin-deceleration.

From there, Waltham began considering scenarios where moons would not destabilize a planet as quickly. One of them would be if the solar system was precessing, or moving, more slowly. This led him to wonder about the influence of other planets on Earth, a question also preoccupying Jonti Horner, an astronomer and astrobiologist at the University of Southern Queensland, who is affiliated with the Australian Centre for Astrobiology.

Jupiter on the move

The researchers ran models of our Solar System. With each iteration, seven of the eight planets in the solar system are in the same starting conditions in terms of mass, location and orbit. The eighth, Jupiter, kept the same mass but was moved around in various ways.

The researchers used different orbital eccentricities ranging from perfectly circular to orbits that are moderately eccentric, or elliptical, where Jupiter’s closest and furthest distances range 20 percent further than usual. In distance terms, this means Jupiter would rove as much as two astronomical units or Earth-sun distances in its orbit, ranging from 4.2 AU from the Sun to 6.2 AU from the sun.

In addition, the authors moved the entire orbit of Jupiter inwards and outwards (testing what would happen if it had formed closer to the Sun, or further away), and at each new location, again tested a range of orbital eccentricities between circular and moderately eccentric. This meant that, in their most extreme close-in scenario, Jupiter came all the way in to 3.4 AU at perihelion, while in the most extreme distant scenario, it ranged out to over 7.4 AU from the Sun.

Using tens of thousands of permutations, Waltham and Horner stepped forward each simulation through a million years of time, recording Earth’s orbital parameters every 100 years and then charting the results.

“The default assumption is this is something that is important,” Horner said. “There’s a lot of flexibility where Jupiter will be, and you would assume that you’d have a very smooth, very gentle variation in how the Earth’s orbit behaves over time.”

The model showed that most of Jupiter’s locations resulted in little change in Earth’s orbit and tilt, although the effect on Earth’s climate is unclear. Horner said he is working with James Gilmore, a climatologist at University of London, to better understand how changes in the Earth’s tilt or orbit would affect its habitability. Changing the tilt would affect the seasons, while changing the orbit would alter the amount of sun on the surface.

Waltham, meanwhile, says there is a discrepancy between the results in this study and a previous one he had done with analytical equations showing that Jupiter’s position has a striking influence on Earth’s climate. While he believes this study is more accurate, he wants to go back to his earlier work to resolve the difference.

Searching for life beyond Earth

Although this simulation dealt specifically with the Earth-Jupiter relationship, there are implications for worlds that are beyond our Solar System’s reaches, the researchers said. Take solar systems that are comprised of planets orbiting in spaces as small as Mercury’s orbit of the Sun.

“It’s about spacing,” Waltham said. “I think there is a strong implication that compact solar systems are less likely to have planets with stable axes, which makes them less likely to be habitable.”

That said, he warns there are no “absolute rules” about habitability. There could be scenarios where the axis moves too quickly for complex life to keep up, but simple life forms such as bacteria are be able to evolve fast enough to adapt to temperature changes.

Horner, meanwhile, is examining scenarios under which giant planets send giant impactors, such as asteroids, towards inner planets. For Earth, a Jupiter-sized planet is both a good and a bad thing. The gas giant absorbs some impacts from meteorites, but also alters the orbits of small bodies and could send them towards Earth.

He added that the new research underscores how a small change in parameters could change habitability wildly, pointing to the need to look at more solar systems in formation to see under what conditions planets form. Examining new solar systems will be a strength of NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which is launching into space in 2018.

Horner emphasized that the numerous simulations his team ran on Jupiter’s influence in the solar system shows that where planets end up is often a result of chance as much as physics.

“Every object you add to [a planetary] system adds complexity, and the end result is a result of random chances,” said Horner. “So if you change something very small when the solar system is forming, it’s kind of chaotic.”

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/01/jupiter-earth-stable-axis-habitability/

North Korea May Launch Rocket, Photo Shows

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North Korea may be preparing to attempt another rocket launch in the next few weeks, new satellite imagery suggests.

The photo, which was taken Monday (Nov. 26), shows increased activity at North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launch Station. The hustle and bustle is similar to that seen before the rogue nation’s failed long-range rocket launch last April, according to satellite operator DigitalGlobe.

“Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel/oxidizer tanks, should North Korea desire, it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks (e.g., by mid-December 2012),” DigitalGlobe officials wrote in a statement released with the new image.

Though it has tried numerous times, North Korea has not yet succeeded in placing a satellite in Earth orbit. Last April’s attempted launch of an Earth-observing craft atop the nation’s Unha-3 rocket was just the latest failure, following similar flops in 1998 and 2009.

In a rare public admission, North Korean officials acknowledged the Unha-3 failure shortly after the rocket crashed into the sea on April 13. (The nation had maintained that the 1998 and 2009 attempts were successful, though Western analysts are confident that neither one reached orbit.)

North Korea’s past launches have drawn condemnation from the United States, South Korea and other nations, which viewed them as thinly disguised missile tests. The West’s concern stems largely from North Korea’s famous unpredictability, along with its status as a nuclear-armed nation. The country is also highly secretive, making it difficult for Western observers to follow its activities or divine its motives.

North Korean missile technology races its origins to Soviet Scuds, which apparently entered the country via Egypt in the 1970s. Since then, the Hermit Kingdom has been developing bigger and more powerful rockets, some of which may have the potential to reach the West Coast of the United States.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/28/north-korea-rocket/

NASA Is Building the World’s First 3D-Printed Satellite Camera

Cubesats

The 2-inch 3D printed camera will be mounted on CubeSats like these.
Image: NASA

NASA is already using 3D printing to make rocket engine parts, a space pizza maker and even physical photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. But by the end of September, one NASA engineer expects to complete the first space cameras made almost entirely out of 3D-printed stuff.

“As far as I know, we are the first to attempt to build an entire instrument with 3D printing,” Jason Budinoff, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

Budinoff is building a 2-inch (50 millimeters) camera for a CubeSat — a miniature satellite. The camera will have to pass vibration and thermal-vacuum tests next year to prove that it’s capable of space travel. Budinoff is also using 3D printing to build a 14-inch (350 mm) dual-channel telescope.

Both instruments are being built to demonstrate how 3D printing (also called “additive manufacturing”) can be used as a boon for space exploration. The new technique could cut down both the time and cost of traditional manufacturing.

To build the 3D-printed instruments, first a computer-controlled laser melts down a pile of metal powder. It then fuses the melted metal into a specific configuration determined by a 3D computer design. The instruments are built and assembled layer by layer — like slices of bread from a loaf. The layered approach makes it possible to build in tiny internal features and grooves that are impossible to build using traditional manufacturing.

But the instruments are not deep-space ready — at least not yet, according to Budinoff.

“I basically want to show that additive-machined instruments can fly,”Budinoff said in the same statement. “We will have mitigated the risk, and when future program managers ask, ‘Can we use this technology?’ we can say, ‘Yes, we already have qualified it.'”

In the future, 3D printers could reduce the overall cost of building space exploring instruments. For example, Budinoff’s 3D printed camera only requires four separate pieces, whereas a conventional camera would require between five and 10 times the number of parts, according to Budinoff.

Budinoff is also working on a way to build 3D-printed metal mirrors. Mirrors are crucial parts of telescopes, and it may be possible to create them with powdered aluminum. Aluminum is notoriously porous, which makes it difficult to polish. If Budinoff’s theory is correct, then a process called “hot isostatic pressing” could convert the aluminum into a gleaming mirror.

The pressing technique involves taking a 3D printed aluminum mirror and placing it in a heated chamber under 15,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The intense heat and pressure would lower the aluminum’s surface porosity and create a polished mirror.

This kind of mirror could be especially useful for infrared instruments that must operate at extremely cold temperatures. Infrared sensors are usually made out of several different materials. But if all the parts were made out of aluminum, it would be easier to control the instrument’s temperature.

Budinoff will likely finish both instruments this year, and they will undergo spaceflight testing in 2015.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/12/3d-printed-cubesat-camera/

Drop Of Water Orbits Needle In Space Experiment

One of the most important parts of actually being in space is that astronauts can conduct physics experiments in zero gravity they otherwise couldn’t on Earth. Here, a NASA astronaut conducts a small, yet amazing experiment. After ‘charging’ a knit needle with a piece of paper, he squirts drops of water near the needle, causing them to orbit it just like a satellite. 

 

Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2012/02/08/drop-of-water-orbits-needle-in-space-experiment/

Astronauts Plant Trees in Russia That Tower Above Politics

Cosmonaut-grove

Trees line the path of Cosmonaut Grove at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Russia.
Image: Flickr, Eugene Kaspersky

In their last days on Earth before launching to the International Space Station, astronauts sees the same thing: two rows of trees that punctuate the otherwise austere landscape outside the space launch facility in Baikonur, Russia.

The trees that outline the T-shaped path are mismatched in size, but that’s for a reason. Each one was planted by an astronaut just before he or she launched to space, a tradition that Yuri Gagarin started 50 years ago when he planted the first tree just before he became the first human in space. His tree is the largest.

A fresh three-member crew — Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European astronaut Alexander Gerst — will launch to the ISS on Wednesday. All three astronauts planted their trees last week.

Expedition_40_tree_planting

Expedition 40/41 crew (from left) NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Roscosmos commander Maxim Suraev and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst during the traditional tree-planting ceremony in the run-up to their launch to the ISS on May 28.

Image: European Space Agency

“There’s a whole wealth of Russian traditions,” NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, who planted a tree before his mission in 2012, told Mashable. “Some are funny, some are beautiful.”

Marshburn-Hadfield-Tree

t the Cosmonaut Hotel crew quarters in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Expedition 34 crew members Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency (left), Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko (center) and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn (right) pose for pictures Dec. 13, 2012 at the site of their tree planting.

Image: NASA

Many Russian traditions are based on the success of what a cosmonaut did before. “In a lot of ways, it’s about honoring the person who came before you,” Marshburn said.

The simple ceremony always takes place shortly before launch, no matter the environment. Be it a harsh Russian winter or an even colder political standoff, the tree will be planted.

But given the current political climate between the U.S. and Russia, these trees have a deeper meaning within the space community, which, until very recently, has been able to operate above bureaucratic squabble.

As the U.S. continues to unleash sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the crisis in Ukraine, both nations have put targets on the backs of each other’s space programs.

In April, NASA sent a memo to employees stating that it was cutting all ties with Russia, except for when it comes to the space station — as the U.S. depends on Russia to launch its astronauts to the ISS.

At the same time, NASA made a grandiose public statement that it would return spaceflight to the U.S. by 2017, completely nixing the need for Russian involvement at all.

“We’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017,” NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told Mashable in April. “The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple.”

Although NASA, at the time, said politics wouldn’t make it to the space station, Russia unveiled a different plan just weeks later. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on May 13 that Moscow would deny U.S. requests to use the ISS after 2020. He also said he would prevent the U.S. from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites.

Astronauts, however, have subtly voiced their continued commitment to teamwork — a seemingly passive protest to the two countries’ efforts to drag the ISS into their battle.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who planted his own tree alongside Marshburn, is among the most vocal. In an April interview with RT, the ISS commander condemned weaponizing space.

And just hours after the news broke that Russia wanted to ban the U.S. from the ISS — coincidentally, that was on the same day a crew of both American and Russian astronauts was returning to Earth — Hadfield tweeted this:

And just on day after the U.S. issued its first round of sanctions against Russia, NASA released the photo below before a scheduled launch, showing the two flags together.

Russia-US-Space

The flags of the countries representing the crew members of Soyuz TMA-12M are seen at the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev, Russia on Friday, March 28, 2014.

Image: NASA

“Living in space really does break down barriers,” Marshburn said. “It is a family up there. We have to survive.”

Even NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in March — around the time Russia invaded Crimea — that the space station has been the cornerstone of peaceful relations.

During a press conference, Bolden, who commanded the first U.S.-Russian space shuttle mission in 1994, told the story of flying with Russian cosmonauts only a few years after the Cold War. The men talked of their families and of their aspirations for the world over dinner.

“I found that our relationship with the Russians in the space program has been the same ever since,” Bolden said. “We have weathered the storm through lots of contingencies.”

For his part, Marshburn, who is currently training in Houston for a future ISS mission, said he will continue to work as though the next trip will be with Russia. He’ll still study Russian, and he’ll work with Russian cosmonaut colleagues on site.

“We are well padded from the political goings on,” said Marshburn. “So, I just don’t think about it because who knows where it’s going to go.”

And as long as NASA astronauts climb into a Russian spacecraft, they’ll continue to add their tree to the growing grove around the Baikonur Cosmodrome as well.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/05/28/nasa-russia-tree-cosmodrome/

Hubble Snaps Photo of ‘Christmas Ornament’ Nebula

Christmas-nebula

It’s the time of year when even the scientists at NASA get into the holiday spirit. Last year, the space agency’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer snapped an image of a cosmic Christmas wreath for the holiday season.

Not be outdone, the venerable Hubble Space Telescope delivered holiday cheer in the form of this image of NGC 5189, a nebula that — if you’re brimming over with holiday cheer or just squinting a little — resembles a very merry Christmas ornament wrapped in a festive ribbon.

You can take a trip through the cosmos to zoom in on the nebula just like the Hubble did in the short video below.

Is the “ornament” interpretation meeting astronomers — and we suspect NASA’s PR wonks — more than halfway? Yeah, probably a little more than half, but come on — ’tis the season. You can afford to be that generous, right?

Either way, we can all agree that the beauty of the image on its own is enough to make you smile.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Geekosystem
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/12/19/christmas-ornament-nebula/

North Korea Plans Satellite Launch Later This Month

Over the next three weeks, North Korea plans to launch an Earth observation satellite into space.

North Korea has informed the International Maritime Organisation wing of the UN that it plans to launch the latest Kwangmyngsng satellite sometime between February 8 and25. The hermit regime also poked its head out to report itsplans to the UNs International Telecommunication Union, who help manage the worlds satellites’ orbits.

It all sounds very official, but the North Korean National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) isnt likely to be replacing NASA any time soon.

The North Koreans have a chequered past in their space program’s short history. Since 1998, NADAhasattempted five satellite launches. Four of these have been flops. The fifth Kwangmyngsng-3 Unit 2 launched in December 2012, and managed to enter orbit.

Although this launch madeNorth Korea the world’s 10th countryto successfullysend an objectintoorbit,several weeks laterthe satelliteappeared to be broken and was”twirling around” aimlessly, Associated Pressreported

Although North Koreaproclaimsthat the satellite will be used for purely scientific purposes, the international community isnt convinced. The plan was announced less than a month after itshydrogen bomb test, leading many to believe this launch is just a guise forlong-range ballistic missile tests. This, along with decades of historic tension with the wider world, has led the United States, South Korea and Japan to already condemnthe plan.

Main image credit: (stephan)/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/north-korea-plan-satellite-launch-later-month-0