Monday, September 30, 2013

Asteroid Disposition

NASA is currently looking at capturing a tiny asteroid and placing it in a stable orbit around the Moon, where it could be visited repeatedly by humans.

Such an asteroid would not become a permanent neighbor, however.  After a century or so, NASA is considering deliberately crashing the thing into the lunar surface.  Of course, by then, residents of the Moon might have something to say about that.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shutdown Consequences

According to a report NASA has submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, if there is a shutdown of the federal government, fewer than 600 of the space agency's 18,000 employees will remain on the job.

Maintaining the safety of personnel and the effectiveness of equipment will be the agency's priorities.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Perchorates And Organics

Perchorates are compounds of salts and oxygen, and are abundant in Martian soil.  A new study suggests they might be hindering the search for life on Mars.

NASA's rover Curiosity heats soil samples to look for organic compounds and possible life.  However, when perchorates are heated the oxygen is released, and oxygen destroys some forms of life.  So, when Curiosity detects organics and possible life in the soil, there may in fact be more there than is detected.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Two Percent Solution

Analysis of soil samples gathered by the Curiosity rover indicates roughly 2 percent by weight of Martian soil is water.  Scientists believe that ratio will probably hold planetwide.

If it does, that would be a big plus for the human exploration and settlement of Mars.  Humans could meet their water needs by extracting water from the soil.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Earth And Io

A new study argues the very early Earth may have been similar to Jupiter's moon Io, which is currently the most volcanically active body in the Solar System.

Before cooling down and having plate tectonics kick in, the study says Earth released its internal heat through immense and prolonged volcanic eruptions.  Such an environment wouldn't seem a likely incubator for life, but the study argues the release of huge amounts of physical and chemical energy from rock into water would actually have encouraged the creation of life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More Evidence Of Martian Water

NASA's Curiosity rover has found veins cut through sandstone rock on Mars.  Scientists are confident the cutting agent was flowing liquid water.

It's simply the latest bit of evidence strengthening the case that ancient Mars had substantial amounts of liquid water on the surface.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

North Korean Rocketry

North Korea may have tested a large rocket in late August, according to analysts who studied satellite images of the launch site taken days apart, before and after the alleged event.

From that evidence, analysts say the rocket could have been a space launcher-- or it could have been a test of a long range ballistic missile.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Younger Moon

New analyses of lunar rocks suggest the Moon was formed 100 million years later than thought, or roughly 4.45 billion years ago.

Current theory holds that the Moon was created as a result of a Mars-sized body slamming into the young Earth, throwing material into space that coalesced into the Moon.  In fact, there is geologic evidence that Earth suffered a major catastrophe about 4.4 billion years ago.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Deciphering Black Holes

Physicists once thought it was impossible to learn what was inside black holes because that stuff is essentially cut off from the rest of the universe.  Radiation, though, does seep out of black holes, and that radiation carries information about the interior.

A new sttudy of how to secure information using quantam principles to encrypt keys that controls access to information also suggests it's at least theoretically possible to use the mathematics of quantam physics and information theory to probe the interiors of black holes.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The End Of Earth

A new study says Earth will be uninhabitable in 1.75 billion years.  The Sun is growing bigger and hotter, it says, and will eventually boil away Earth's water reserves.

At that far future time, the study says Mars will be habitable.  Of course, a starfaring civilization around before that end time could also intervene in the natural run of things to preserve its home world.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Deep Impact Finished

NASA has formally declared its Deep Impact mission over after failing for months to reestablish contact with the spacecraft.

The probe, launched in 2005, encountered two comets and sent an impactor into the first, helping to shape our current understanding of those bodies.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mars Water

Martiian probes, especially NASA's Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, have virtually clinched the case for substantial amounts of water on Mars in the past.  It's possible there was more than one wet era.

Water over some long period, in rivers, lakes, and possibly an ocean, increases the odds that life could have arisen on Mars.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cygnus On Its Way

Orbital Sciences successfully launched its Cygnus cargo ship atop its Antares rocket this morning.  Cygnus is headed to ISS.

It was also the first launch to ISS from NASA's Wallops Island site in Virginia.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3552 Don Quixote

Astronomers have discovered the near-Earth asteroid 3552 Don Quixote is in fact a comet with about as much water as Lake Tahoe.  The Quixote water, of course, is in the form of ice.

That much water might make Don Quixote an early exploration target.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Exomoons And Life

A new study suggests exomoons are unlikely to support life because moons likely don't come big enough to have their own magnetic fields, and strong magnetic fields are important as they shield life on the surface of a world from deadly cosmic radiation.

That said, some of the best candidates for life beyond Earth in the Solar System are Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's Titan and Enceladus.  All moons.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Extinctions And Asteroids

One theory holds that life originated somewhere in space and came to Earth.  Another theory suggests asteroids crashing into Earth have changed the course of life on Earth.

The most famous such incident is the impact that likely wiped out the dinosaurs, opening the way for the rise of mammals.  There seems to be correlations between other mass extinctions in the fossil record and major impact events, as well-- also between such impacts and climate change.  Scientists are now looking at trace elements of chemicals in ancient rock fragments to try to support the theory.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Voyager I

Voyager I has left the Solar System, according to NASA, becoming the first human spacecraft to reach interstellar space.

Designed to perform flybys of the gas giants, Voyager I has continued to function for more than thirty years.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

LADEE Doing Fine

NASA's LADEE lunar probe, launched from Virginia last week, is checking out A-OK as it spirals out to the Moon.

LADEE will investigate the wispy lunar atmosphere and lunar dust.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Long Drive For Curiiosity

NASA's Curiosity rover made its longest single day drive yet last week, covering 404 feet.

Mission planners used the camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help plot the course Curiosity followed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sutter's Mill Meteorite And Life

A meteor fell to Earth April 22, 2012, near Sutter's Mill, California, thus becoming a meteorite.  Scientists studying fragments of the meteorite have found traces of organic compounds.

In itself, that's not terribly unusual; organics have been associated with space rocks many times.  This time, however, the particular compounds found could hold other organics together.  That would be a big step forward in the creation of life.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Virgin Galactic Close

Officials at Virgin Galactic have said recently they plan to commence commercial flight operations by mid-year 2014.

That's dependent on the success of the test flight program, of course.  So far, so good on that.  VG is looking at 20 test flights, two of which have been successfully completed.  If all goes well, however, fewer test flights might suffice.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Star Trek

Today marks the 47th anniversary of  the debut of "Star Trek" on NBC.  It was not a huge rating success, but it attracted a core of fans that refused to let the show die.  There have been an animated series, four spinoff series. and 12 feature films, so far.

All in all, when canceling the original series after three seasons, NBC likely goofed.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Virgin Galactic Moves Ahead

Virgin Galactic has successfully completed its second powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo.  The vehicle reached an altitude of 65,000 feet.

VG is on track to begin commercial flights in 2014.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Finding Life

Fifty years ago, Frank Drake wrote an equation aimed at estimating the number of technological civilizations existing at any one time in the galaxy.  It has become the foundational equation of SETI.

Now, Sara Seager of MIT has written an equation estimating the odds of finding life-- any life-- on a planet orbiting an M-class star, the most common type of star in the galaxy.  Advances made the last twenty years in finding exoplanets, and advances on the horizon, she argues, makes such a calculation reasonable.  Seager says there's a remote chance of finding life elsewhere within a decade.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Minotaur V

Orbital Science's Minotaur V launcher is set for a dramatic debut Friday evening, lifting NASA's LADEE mission to the Moon.  LADEE is tasked to study lunar dust and the virtually non-existent lunar atmosphere.

LADEE will also be the first lunar mission launched from NASA's Wallops Island, Virginia, site.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Missing The Night

As the human population is increasingly concentrated in huge cities-- and even megacities--  we are losing contact with the wonders of the night sky, wonders that helped fuel and organize our mythology, wonders that helped us navigate the globe of Earth, and wonders that gave us a first inkling of infinity.

The night lights of modern cities washes those wonders out of the sky.  Astronomers have been opposing light pollution for years, with limited success.  Unless things change, we will be poorer as a species.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Uranus Trojan Asteroid Found

Astronomers have found a Trojan asteroid of the planet Uranus.

A Trojan asteroid orbits the Sun in the same orbit as a planet, only sixty degrees ahead of or behind the planet.  Earth has Trojans, as do Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hot Times On A Blue World

There's a big blue world 63 light years away, but it's not a candidate to support life.

In fact, the world is a so-called hot Jupiter orbiting its star at such close range that the surface temperature is roughly 1700 degrees.  That's hot enough that it rains molten glass there, which is what gives the exoplanet the blue tint.