Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Opportunity Problems

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has been losing data due to a computer memory problem.  Engineers have isolated the cause, however, and they think there's a software fix.

Opportunity has been roving Mars for ten years now after its mission was supposed to last 90 days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Venus And CO2

Carbon dioxide makes up about 96 percent of the atmosphere of Venus, but some researchers say at one time the planet may have had oceans of carbon dioxide fluid.

That would've been supercritical CO2.  In a supercritical state, carbon dioxide can shift between being a gas and being a liquid and back virtually instantaneously.  Venus would have been a really strange place.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Europa's Geysers

Geysers on Jupiter's moon Europa, discovered in December, 2012, are intermittent in nature.  They have not been detected again.

So, gathering samples of Europa's subsurface ocean by flying through geyser plumes may not be so simple.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lunar Tractors And AI

If the first human outposts on the Moon will be in lava tubes or caves, lunar tractors will need to be developed to carry the elements of the outposts inside, to their new homes.  Also, because the rock above will block radio signals as well as deadly radiation, artificial intelligence programs capable of directing the installation of the outpost on its own may need to be developed.

Such an AI development project could, by itself, spark revolutionary progress across the economy, from manufacturing to healthcare.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Macroweather On Mars

Researchers have found that Mars, like Earth, has macromeather-- a state between daily weather and long term climate.

They think understanding macroweather could help understand all worlds with atmospheres.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


One of the most important photographs yet taken was snapped on Christmas Eve, 1968, as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon.  It shows the Earth in the blackness of space above the lunar surface.

"Earthrise" helped spark both the space advocacy movement and the environmental movement.  Though envinmentalism was around before 1968, the photograph helped drive home the point that Earth is a special place.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Forty Two Years

Forty two years ago, the latest humans stood on the Moon.  That was just before the Watergate scandal broke.

Momentum is now building to return to the Moon, this time to stay permanently.  With luck, in a few years, the scouts of Apollo will be followed by the settlers of a new era.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life On Ceres?

Ceres, the body that has moved from being the largest asteroid to being a dwarf planet, has huge amounts of water ice, possibly a subsurface ocean of liquid water, heat, and carbon compounds.  It may, therefore, support life.

NASA's Dawn probe will arrive at Ceres in March.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Predator Aliens

One theory has it that species that master interstellar travel will likely be essentially predators because high protein diets are necessary to power brains able enough to challenge the stars.  That probably makes sense.

The theory goes on to postulate such civilizations would be aggressive and warlike.  That might be stretching theory too far.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Year In Space

One American astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut are scheduled to begin a one year stay aboard ISS next spring.

The mission is to pave the way for deep space trips, like journeys to Mars.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Platform Touchdown

SpaceX will attempt to land its Falcon 9 rocket softly on a platform in the Atlantic after its next launch.

That launch is now scheduled for January 6.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Organics On Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into a rock on Mars and found organic chemicals-- the building blocks of life.

The discovery doesn't mean life exists or has existed on Mars, but it does further strengthen a case for life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Glaciers On Mars?

A new study suggests glaciers may have carved at least part of the Mariner Valley, the huge canyon system on Mars.

That would have happened in a colder yet wetter period than today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lunar Visions

Science fiction authors have imagined spectacular cities on the lunar plains.  Businesspeople have envisioned resorts in the magnificent crater Copernicus.  Those might exist someday. but the first lunar bases and settlements could well be built underground. perhaps in lava tubes.

Such sites would be protected by the rock overhead against deadly radiation.  They would also not have the extreme temperature shifts the surface endures/

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Water On Earth

Results from Rosetta suggests comets may not have delivered most of Earth's water.  The particular signature of the water on the comet Rosetta is studying differs significantly from that of the water in Earth's oceans.

If that conclusion holds, asteroids would become the prime candidates to be the bringers of water.

Friday, December 12, 2014

An Astronomical First

A ground-based astronomical observatory in the Canary Islands has observed the transit of a super Earth across the disk of its star, a first for a telescope on Earth.

As space probes discover more and more exoplanets, it's important ground-based facilities be able to follow up.  The technology enabling that is arriving.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life On Titan?

Dr. Christopher McKay speculates we may already have evidence of life on Saturn's moon Titan.

As the Huygens probe was about to land on Titan, he argued methane-based life might consume hydrogen.  In fact, Huygens found plenty of hydrogen in the upper and middle layers of Titan's atmosphere, but a diminished amount in the lower layer, where life would presumably be.

The idea needs more work, as McKay acknowledges, but it's sure provocative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Titan's Dunes

A new study finds that huge dunes on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan were built not by the prevailing winds but by powerful bursts of wind from the opposite direction.

The bursts seem influenced by the position of the Sun.  It's remarkable that the Sun can still have a direct role in shaping local environments so far away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wet Early Mars

The Curiosity rover is gathering evidence-- the particular type of weathering of rocks-- suggesting that the crater it's in was once a lake.

Explorations of Mars continues to build a strong case that, at least once in its history, Mars supported liquid water on its surface.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Horizons

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft stirred itself into action Saturday, preparing for its encounter with Pluto and subsequent exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

New Horizons will fly by Pluto next July.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Warming Mars

A new study suggests erupting volcanoes-- Mars has several huge ones-- may have warmed early Mars enough, long enough, to allow water to flow on the surface.

Further, this could have happened several times, producing multiple episodes of a temperate Mars.  One researcher compared the process to the magical Scottish village, Brigadoon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion Success

The Orion test flight this morning seems to have been a solid success, from liftoff in Florida to splashdown in the Pacific nearly four and a half hours later.

The U. S. Navy will recover Orion later today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Orion Test Delayed

The first test flight of the new Orion space capsule was delayed today because of various seemingly small glitches.

NASA will try again tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hayabusa 2

Japan's Hayabusa 2 probe is on its way to bring back samples from a comet.

Japan is one of several nations undertaking deep space robotic missions.  One wonders what could be accomplished if they pooled their resources and talents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Additive Manufacturing

A 3D-printer aboard ISS recently made its first part in space, opening the era of what's called additive manufacturing-- producing things from raw materials-- beyond Earth.

Such a capability will revolutionize space exploration, and it may also be key to establishing an Earth-Moon economy.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Researchers are experimenting with a so-called Cliffbot, a robot that could climb cliffs and gulley walls on Mars, saving astronauts that risk.

Cliffbot could explore places on Mars that would be most likely to have evidence of life.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Supermassive Black Holes

Supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies are 40 percent more massive than previously thought, a new study says.

The study used a simpler method to measure the distance to the black holes, which in turn allowed for a more precise measurement of their masses.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Tough DNA

A new study using a sounding rocket suggests simple DNA, like that found in bacteria, might survive exposure to space better than expected.

If confirmed, the finding might affect biological protocols on future interplanetary flights.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Missing Stars

Researchers have found globular star clusters that don't have as many stars as current theory says they should have.

Therefore, a new theory of globular cluster formation is needed.   That's how science works.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Exploration Flight Test-1

NASA plans to conduct the first test flight of its new Orion capsule on December 4.

Exploration Flight Test-1 will test Orion's systems, including its huge heat shield-- the largest yet made-- in a high speed re-entry that will simulate a return from the Moon.  The flight will be unmanned.

Monday, November 24, 2014

To Bolldly Go

Fifty years ago this week, filming began on the original STAR TREK television series.

That series has been followed by four more television series, plus a series of feature films, not to mention a cottage industry centered on novels.  STAR TREK, its characters, and its optimistic view of the human future, have become part of a worldwide popular culture.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What Is It?

Astronomers have found an object in the bowl of the Big Dipper that could be a supernova that has been exploding for 60 years.  Or, it could be two black holes in the process of merging.  Or it could be a huge variable star that will eventually become a supernova.  Further research will resolve the matter.

Nature has a deep bag of tricks.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Binary Planets

Researchers using computer simulations have found that two worlds the size of Earth could exist in orbit around each other.

They found the situation could be stable for billions of years if the planets orbited far enough away from their star that the star's gravity did not disrupt the delicate balance between the planets.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Philae Sniffs Organics

Before losing  power, sensors on the Philae lander detected organic compounds in the atmosphere of its comet.

Philae also found the comet's surface is much harder than previously thought.  That might be a factor in Philae's bouncing landing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lunar Mission One

Lunar Mission One is a Britain based non-profit, private effort to put a lander in the southern polar region of the Moon by 2024 and drill down perhaps 330 feet to obtain ancient rock samples.

LMO says such samples would be of immense scientific value, as well as being useful in determining whether that area could support a manned outpost.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Going Lunar

Momentum for settling the Moon seems to be building.  Several major nations have expressed interest in joining an international lunar base program, The Next Giant Leap Conference held in Hawaii last week (in which I was involved) seems to have successfully presented the case for lunar settlement, and an international group is now trying to push the idea ahead.

The point of the effort is to build a larger, wealthier economy that can provide real opportunity to every human.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Supercritical CO2

Researchers say supercritical CO2-- carbon dioxide under the right extreme temperature and pressure conditions-- acts very much like water and could possibly support life.

Such conditions exist deep in Earth's oceans and possibly on the surfaces of super-Earths.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Philae Goes Silent

Philae, the first human spacecraft to land on a comet, has fallen silent after its battery power ran out.

There is some chance contact with the probe can be reestablished if its solar panels can collect enough energy.  A bouncing landing left the panels ill-aligned and partially blocked from the Sun, but as the comet gets closer to the Sun, the power situation might change.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Stormy Uranus

The atmosphere of Uranus, so far away from the Sun, is usually quite quiet.  Now, however, several huge storms are active there.

So far, astronomers have no real handle on what''s going on.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Philae's Wild Ride

The lander on the Rosetta mission, Philae, is operating on the head of its comet, but only after a wild ride.

The mission team spent days picking just the right landing spot, but the landing didn't go as planned.  Philae bounced off the surface of the comet twice before settling down.  As the comet continued to rotate under the bouncing spacecraft, Philae's final position was not immediately apparent.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Europe's Rosetta space probe, after an extraordinary odyssey, is set to put a lander on a comet today.  The lander has been successfully released from the main probe.  It would be the first such landing on a comet.

Because of the distance involved, Earth won't know what happened at the comet for hours after the fact.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kraken Mare

Kraken Mare, the largest hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan, at about five times the size of Lake Superior, is 115 feet deep, and probably deeper.

Scientists doubt Cassini's radar beam, which measured the sea's depth, is powerful enough to plumb the deepest part of the sea.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Next Giant Leap

The Nrxt Giant Leap Conference is being held in Hawaii this week.  It will lay out a case for the indusrrialization of the Moon.

Going back to the Moon for profit, argues the group behind the conference (which includes me), would be the first major step towards expanding the human economy into the Solar System, creating an economy of vast wealth, capable of transforming the future on Earth, giving every human a real opportunity for a better life.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gaia's Numbers

Team members operating Europe's Gaia spacecraft estimate they could find as many as 70,000 exoplanets if the probe lasts ten years.  So far we have confirmed about 2,000 exoplanets.

Gaia will monitor 1 billion stars in the Milky Way.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Virgin Galactic announced yesterday that it plans to resume test flights of its spacecraft next summer.

A second SpaceShipTwo was already being built before the recent accident that destroyed the first one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

OSC Follow Up

Orbital Sciences announced yesterday that it will no longer use the Russian rocket engines in its Antares launcher.

The engines, by the way, were developed by the Soviets to power their manned lunar program, which never came to pass.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Russian Rocket

Orbital Sciences says a malfunction in a refurbished Russian rocket engine likely led to the explosion of its Antares launcher last month.

OSC was already looking at replacing the Russian engines, so the accident may hasten that move.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Titan's Sunlit Seas

Cassini images show sunlight glittering off the methane seas of Saturn's huge moon, Titan.

Earth and Titan are the only bodies in the Solar System to have standing bodies of liquid on the surface.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Preliminary conclusions in the investigation into the SpaceShipTwo accident are that the mechanism that allows the craft to glide back to Earth--- the so-called feathering mechanism-- engaged prematurely, causing the craft to break up.  In that case, the new fuel used on the flight would not have been a factor in the tragedy.

Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic, says the company's efforts will continue.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tragedy Over Mojave

In what was to have been one of the final test flights before commercial flights commenced, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo exploded yesterday, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.

The flight used a new fuel for the first time, but whether that was a factor in the tragedy is not yet known.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Early Water

Analysis of meteorites that originated on the asteroid Vesta suggests water existed in this solar system 135 million years sooner than previously thought.

The finding suggests theories on planetary formation may need tweaking.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Media Hype

THE CBS EVENING NEWS yesterday, in coverage of the Antares rocket explosion, asked whether that accident may mark the end of NASA's use of commercial launch services.

It won't.  The commercial launch sector, accidents notwithstanding, continues to develop.  NASA has contracted with two of those firms, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, to supply ISS.  NASA lacks the money to develop its own family of rockets, and Congress is not about to fund such a program.

CBS News, unfortunately, chose easy hype over laying out the factual situation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Antares Explodes

An Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket exploded during launch yesterday.  No one was injured.  The flight was to carry cargo to ISS.

Also on board was the first asteroid probe of Deep Space Industries.  DSI plans to assay and eventually mine asteroids.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Titan's Methane Cloud

Scientists using Cassini data have identified a methane cloud in the upper atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, where they didn't expect such clouds to be.

They are piecing together a circulatory system in Titan's atmosphere similar to the one in Earth's atmosphere, even though Titan is much colder and, therefore, different elements are involved.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Landing Falcon 9

Elon Musk says that after the next launch of the Falcon 9, now scheduled for December, SpaceX will attempt to softly land the rocket on a platform in the Atlantic.

It's the next step towards creating a reusable rocket.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gravvitational Waves

Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts gravitational waves rippling through spacetime, but science hasn't yet detected them.

That might change soon.  Such waves might make stars brighter than they should be as the wave passes through, and the next generation of research telescopes might be able to see that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Aldrin On Mars

Buzz Aldrin, at a MIT conference, said sending people to Mars and leaving them there at least until some critical mass of personnel is reached makes sense.

Others disagreed.  Clearly, settling Mars will test, and perhaps alter, how we view ourselves.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Beta Pictorris Comets

Astronomers have detected swarms of comets orbiting the young star Beta Pictoris, which is 63 light years away.

The situation there is similar to the one in our system, suggesting the processes involved are common throughout the universe.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Moon Launch For China

China may be launching its next robotic mission to the Moon Thursday.

This one will feature a capsule that will re-enter Earth's atmosphere at high speed in preparation for a sample return mission.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ten Thousand Years

Climate change aside, many Earth scientists think long-term climate patterns say the planet will plunge into another ice age in about ten thousand years.

That's good to keep in mind when hunting ET.  Planetary climates are likely cyclical.  Because a planet can't support life now doesn't necessarily mean it hasn't in the past or won't in the future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Comet Siding-Spring

Comet Siding-Spring, on its first visit to the inner Solar System from the Oort Cloud, whizzed past Mars yesterday, missing the planet by only 87,000 miles.

All the probes now at Mars were focused on observing the comet.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The USAF's secretive unmanned spaceplane, the X-37B, landed uneventfully in California yesterday after a 674 day mission.

Exactly what, if anything, was accomplished during the mission is classified.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cassini Zapped

The Cassini spacecraft was zapped by a beam of electrons which emanated from Saturn's moon Hyperion recently.  The beam resulted from an interaction between static electricity on Hyperion and Saturn's magnetosphere.

Cassini was not damaged.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Maybe Not, Mars One

A study by MIT students finds several aspects of the Mars One plan to colonize Mars need strengthening if the colonists are to survive.

Mars One, citing aerospace industry experts, stands by its plan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The formal science mission of NASA's MAVEN probe won't begin for two weeks. but scientists calibrating its instruments are already getting "tantalizing" data about Mars' upper atmosphere.

MAVEN will also observe a comet's close approach to Mars on October 19.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hot Times Inside Luna

A new study of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images finds lava may have flowed on the Moon much more recently than previously thought-- perhaps only tens of millions of years ago instead of 3.5 billion.

That would mean the interior of the Moon remained hot and active into recent times, not the dead world we thought we knew.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Building Civilizations

Yesterday marked the 522nd anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World, as Europeans dubbed the lands between them and Asia, sailing west.  At the time, this area was home to a wide array of cultures and societies, many if not all of which were linked together by trade.  At least a couple of those may have approached ancient Rome in sophistication and vision.

Unfortunately for them, their technology probably wasn't quite on the level of ancient Rome, which meant they were no match for their European visitors in that regard.  Fewer than 400 years after Columbus-- an eye blink in the history of Earth-- the most powerful industrial nation in the world was in North America, stretching from sea to shining sea.

An awful lot can happen awfully quickly.  Those who argue against expanding into space should keep that in mind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

God And ETs

People wonder how the discovery of alien life would affect human religions.  A recent poll suggests people of different faiths view the matter differently.  Perhaps surprisingly, more Muslims say they believe alien life exists than do Christians.  Perhaps not surprisingly, young faiths, like Mormonism, seem to embrace aliens more readily than older religions.

This might be like battle plans that don't survive first contact with the enemy.  We can talk about religion and ETs all we want, but when that first contact finally comes, all bets will likely be off.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tentacle Robot

NASA is looking at developing robots with appendages like elephant trunks or octopus arms to aid in space exploration.  Such arms could snake into rock crevices, for example, or inspect the outsides of spaceships for micrometeoroid pits.

Researchers expect to have intelligent robots with such capabilities within a decade.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NASA And Lunar Water

NASA is looking at two separate missions-- one orbiter and one rover-- that would seek to map the Moon's water resources and determine how accessible they are.

Both missions would launch later this decade.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lunar Water

A new study finds that most of the water on the Moon didn't come from water-rich bodies smacking into the lunar surface.  It came from the solar wind.

The solar wind shoots out hydrogen atoms, and some of those hit the Moon where they interact with oxygen atoms in the rocks to create water.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bigelow To Fly

An expandable module from Bigelow Aerospace is set to be attached to ISS next year.  NASA will evaluate the module for two years.

BA plans to use its inflatable module technology to build space stations, orbiting hotels, and bases on other worlds.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Uranus' small moon Miranda sports a wild jumble of surface features on the one hemisphere we've been able to see so far, as if it were made from parts of different worlds.

A new study based on computer modeling suggests the powerful gravity of Uranus is the sculptor, pulling and stretching and heating the rock and ice of Miranda to produce the fantastic terrain.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Today marks the 57th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, which is generally considered the birth of the Space Age.

It's also the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne winning the Ansari X-Prize, which suggested the commercial space age was just around the corner.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Delta 4 Heavy

A Delta 4 Heavy, the most powerful rocket in use today, is now sitting on a KSC launch pad, waiting to be mated to the Orion capsule it will throw into space.

The test flight, Orion's first, is scheduled for December 4.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lunar Rift Zones

A team working with data from NASA's GRAIL probes has found that the Moon has rift zones much like Earth, Venus, and Mars.

The finding suggests the Moon was much more geologically active than previously thought and demands a rethinking of lunar and planetary formation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

India, NASA Join Hands

NASA and India have agreed to cooperate in space, specifically in Mars exploration and in studying the effects of climate change on Earth.

The cooperation under these agreements could begin at Mars with the current missions of India's MOM and NASA's MAVEN probes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Titanic Mystery

A feature on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan that seems to be an island in a hydrocarbon sea has doubled in size over the last (Earth) year.

Scientists as yet have no explanation for the change.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Old Water

A new study argues that much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System is older than the Sun, having existed in interstellar space before our star formed.

Of course, if space generally is awash in water, the odds for life throughout the universe tick up.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


A new study indicates astronauts should be able to walk faster on low gravity worlds like the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, than previously thought, thus making exploration of those worlds more efficient.

The study is part of an effort to build spacesuits that allow more mobility.  Apollo astronauts tended to hop on the Moon because spacesuit designers of that era were more concerned with safety than mobility, and moving the legs to walk was more difficult than hopping in the light lunar gravity.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Curiosity Drills

Curiosity has drilled its first hole into the Martian mountain, Mount Sharp, to collect rock samples for analysis.

The rover's main mission has always been to climb the mountain, taking samples along the way, to study the natural history of the area.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Astronomers have found traces of water vapor in the atmosphere of an exoplanet designated HAT-P-11b, a Neptune-sized world 124 light years away.

It's the first time water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of so small an exoplanet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MOM At Mars

India's MOM probe successfully inserted itself into Mars orbit last night, a major accomplishment for the Indian space agency.  Only NASA, ESA, and the former Soviet Union have successfully reached Mars orbit previously.

MOM is largely a technology demonstration mission, but it will do some science, including searching for methane in the Martian atmosphere.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Another Dragon Success

SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule has made its fourth consecutive resupply trip to ISS.

Among the items delivered were a 3D printer and a group of 20 mice, complete with habitat.  The mice will be used to study the effects of microgravity on another mammalian species.

Monday, September 22, 2014

MAVEN Arrives At Mars

NASA's MAVEN probe is safely in Mars orbit, arriving last night.

MAVEN's mission is to try to determine why Mars has lost most of its atmosphere.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Establishing Dark Matter

Physicists think dark matter is a large component of the universe because they can't find enough mass in normal matter to account for the gravity required to hold the universe together as we see it.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, on board ISS, is used to search for dark matter by analyzing the components of cosmic rays, and it has produced an interesting result.  So far, it has detected more positrons than expected, and positrons could be indicators of dark matter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mass And Age

Astronomers have found a world ten times more massive than Jupiter that orbits its parent star in only 23 hours.  It's a young star, but it behaves like an older star.

Astronomers think the powerful gravity of the huge world raises tides on the star, complicating its functioning and "aging" it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dwarf Galaxy, Huge Black Hole

Astronomers have found a dwarf galaxy with a supermassive black hole-- not the way these things usually work.

They think the dwarf galaxy was once larger than our Milky Way, but a collision with another galaxy blew away much of its mass.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NASA Chooses

NASA has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to build the spacecraft that will take astronauts back into space under American control.

The first flight is scheduled for 2017.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Big Day For NASA

Later today, NASA will announce which private company or companies will be given the green light to build spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts into space.

Boeing, with its long association with NASA, seems to have the inside track, but SpaceX is presumably a strong contender.  NASA would like to select two companies, to foster competition.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Next Year For Branson

Sir Richard Branson had wanted to be on Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight to the edge of space yet this year, but that event has been pushed into early next year.

VG is years behind its original schedule, but it finally seems on the verge of commercial operations.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Venus Zones

A team of astronomers at San Francisco State is proposing the development of Venus zones to attempt to define where planets might get caught in a runaway greenhouse effect as Venus has suffered.

The point is to try to separate, by distance from their stars, Venus-like worlds, which would be biologically dead, from Earth-like worlds which might support life.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Curiosity Arrives

NASA has announced that Curiosity has arrived at the base of its main goal, Mount Sharp.  The rover is to climb the mountain, studying sediment layers as it goes.

Curiosity's mission has also been granted a two-year extension, so there should be plenty of time to explore.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Water Ice Clouds On Brown Dwarf

Astronomers have found clouds of water ice in the atmosphere of a nearby brown dwarf which is three to ten times as massive as Jupiter.  The world is roughly the same temperature as Earth's North Pole.

It's the first time water ice clouds have been detected outside the Solar System.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


One of the major cases in UFOlogy involves a complex incident reported by USAF personnel that allegedly took place around a NATO air base in Bentwaters, England.  The Science Channel ran a documentary last night that said the UFO sent an energy beam into a storage area filled with nuclear bombs-- an element not in the original story.

Reportedly, the USAF never investigated the matter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Y Dwarf Stars

Y dwarf stars are a newly recognized subset of brown dwarfs, objects larger than Jupiter that don't quite have the mass to ignite nuclear fusion and become full-blown stars.

Astronomers have found a Y dwarf that may have been as hot as a small star early in the universe that is now barely hotter than Earth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Plate Tectonics On Europa?

A new study indicates Jupiter's moon Europa may have plate tectonics.  If that's accurate, Europa would be the only would besides Earth to be active in that way.

Plate tectonics on Europa would also strengthen the case for life there.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Asteroid 2014 RC

Asteroid 2014 RC is a 60-foot rock discovered just last week.  On Sunday it will whiz past Earth at about 21,000 miles out-- closer than communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

NASA is confident this pass poses no threat, but it's the latest in a steady trickle of near misses that should argue for an increased effort in planetary defense.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Europa's Geysers

Scientists had thought flying a probe through Europa's geyser plumes would be an easy way to sample the depths of the moon's ocean.  Now, however, those plumes seem to have disappeared.

It's possible, though, that they're still there, or that they go off and on.  Astronomers monitor the geysers using the Hubble Space Telescope, which means they're not under constant surveillance.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Breakdown Weathering

A new study suggests meteoritic impacts may not be the only way lunar soil is altered.  Cosmic radiation also delivers energy to the surface that can manifest as electrical phenomena that changes the soil.  The process is known as breakdown weathering.

It especially happens in cold traps within permanently shadowed regions, where water ice also exists.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

China And The Moon

China is playing to send a probe into lunar orbit and return it to Earth later this year.  The flight will test re-entry capabilities in preparation for a lunar sample return mission.

A Chinese spokesman also confirmed China is looking at a manned lunar landing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Smash Up Derby

Astronomers have spotted the aftermath of a huge collision around a young Sun-like star 1,400 light years away.  They think the collision was between two large asteroids or two proto-planets, similar to what happened early in our Solar System.

They know it happened about two years ago, as earlier images show no debris.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Solar Flares

NASA has documented six huge solar flares over the past week.  It is a fairly unusual level of activity.

Luckily, none of the flares were in the direction of Earth.  Such explosions can potentially disrupt our electrical grid system.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

X-37B Record

The X-37B experimental unmanned space plane of the U. S. Air Force has been in orbit for well over 600 days on its current mission.

What it is doing is a tightly held secret, but the USAF seems pleased with its performance.

Friday, August 29, 2014

SLS Date Set

NASA's huge SLS rocket, which will stand 400 feet tall, will fly no later than November, 2018, officials promise.  SLS is designed to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA also says the first flight could be as early as December, 2017.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Colonizing Mars

The Science Channel aired a documentary last night about current efforts to colonize Mars.  The show flatly stated the first person on Mars is alive today.

That may be-- that person may even be out of college-- but, judging from the documentary, we still have a lot of work to do before that happens.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Star Cluster Mystery

Astronomers examining two star clusters have found that the stars in the centers of the clusters are younger than the stars farther out, which certainly seems counter-intuitive.

There are several theories to explain the situations-- which means astronomers don't understand yet what's going on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Voyager 2 At Neptune

Twenty-five years ago this week, Voyager 2 became the first human spacecraft to fly by the planet Neptune, completely revolutionizing our view of the planet and its moons.

Scientists are still using Voyager data to learn more about Neptune, as no probe has been out there since.

Monday, August 25, 2014

SpaceX Failure

A Falcon 9 reusable rocket destroyed itself shortly after launch of a test flight in Texas last week.  The onboard computer detected a problem and ordered the destruction.

Failures are not uncommon when developing new rockets, but this is the first failure for SpaceX in this program.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Asteroid Bill

A bill protecting the legal rights of companies seeking to utilize the resources found in asteroids is currently before the U. S. House of Representatives.

Such a bill is a necessary first step towards opening the Solar System to commerce, but national laws probably won't be sufficient.  Ultimately, a treaty establishing a space economy linked to Earth's global economy will likely be required.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Finding Life

Most people probably think the likeliest place to find the first life beyond Earth in the Solar System is Mars.  Some scientists, however, would bet on Jupiter's moon Europa.

They suggest flying a probe through the plumes from erupting geysers on Europa could allow collection of samples from deep within the moon's huge subsurface ocean.  Such samples may speak to life.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not Quite Martian Life

Scientists have decided that a cell-like structure in a Martian meteorite found in Egypt in 1911 is not, in fact, biotic in nature, though it is native to that rock.

Of course, in 1996, another Martian meteorite that sports another odd, cell-like structure ignited a debate about life on Mars.  That debate decided against life, as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Novato Meteorite

A new study links a meteorite that crashed into a house in Novato, California in 2012 to the giant impact that led to the creation of the Moon.

By studying the rock's trajectory and composition, scientists have teased out an amazing story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Detour For Curiosity

NASA's Curiosity rover may take a detour on its way to Mount Sharp.  It has encountered a patch of slippery sand controllers want to avoid.

Curiosity has traveled 5 miles across Mars, and has 2 miles to go to reach the mountain.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Black Hole Variety

Up to now, astronomers had found small black holes and supermassive black holes, but nothing in between.  A new study changes that, finding a medium-sized black hole in a galaxy 12 million light years away.

Supermassive black holes seem to be nearly as old as the universe, but physicists didn't think they could've gotten so big so quickly starting from small black holes.  The confirmation of the existence of medium-sized black holes eases that problem.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Soft Splashdown

SpaceX seems to have taken another small step towards reusable rockets.  After its latest Falcon 9 launch, the company successfully re-ignited the main engines of the first stage, deployed landing struts, and achieved a controlled descent to the ocean.

SpaceX has released video of the descent.

Friday, August 15, 2014

CFCs And White Dwarfs

White dwarfs are common stars in the universe; the Sun will be a white dwarf one day. Even though such tiny stars are cool, they still give off enough heat to have habitable zones, where life might exist.

Researchers suggest the habitable zones of white dwarfs may be good places to look for CFCs in planetary atmospheres as markers of industrialized civilizations.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mining The Moon

The Science Channel aired a documentary about the economic potential of the Moon last night, featuring some small companies working to become big companies by developing that potential.

It also argued that China is planning to be the dominant force on the Moon, which may or may not be accurate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The UN Steps Up

The United Nations is moving forward on planetary defense.  It has created an analysis and warning network and an action team in case an asteroid threatens Earth.

Scientists are hopeful a technology demonstration mission for deflection of asteroids can be mounted within the next ten years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Storms On Uranus

Astronomers at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have spotted a batch of new storms developing on Uranus.

Uranus, so far from the Sun, generally shows a fairly placid face, but even large storms are not unknown there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pluto And Charon

NASA's New Horizons probe has taken five days worth of images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

New Horizons will fly through Pluto's system of at least five moons next summer.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Supermassive Black Holes

Supermassive black holes seem to have formed extremely early in the history of the universe-- begging the question of how they got so big, so fast.

A new study notes the universe was smaller and more densely packed then, allowing black holes to gobble up matter more quickly.  The study also speculates that early black holes may have lacked accretion disks, allowing matter to flow directly into them more easily.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rosetta Success

After ten years in space, Europe's Rosetta probe has rendezvoused with a comet, beaming back wonderful, close-up pictures of the comet's head.

In November, a lander from Rosetta is scheduled to touch down on the comet.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Life May Take Two

A new study argues that having other planets outside a planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star can lengthen the time such a world can support life.  Red dwarfs are the most common and longest-lived stars in the universe.

Outer planets would gravitationally interact with the one in the habitable zone, heating it with internal friction and keeping it geologically active.  That's important, as geologically dead worlds cannot support life.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SpaceX To Brownsville

SpaceX will build the world's first private, commercial space launch facility near Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.

Along with Florida's Atlantic Coast and South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Texas Gulf Coast is among the prime locations for spaceports in the United States.  They are all about as close to the equator as you can get in America, and all allow for launches to the east-- with the Earth's rotation-- over open water, so if there's a problem during launch, the rocket can be safely ditched.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Io's Volcanoes

A year ago this month, Jupiter's moon Io was rocked by three huge volcanic eruptions, among the most powerful yet observed on Io.  They didn't explode from mountains, but rather up through miles long cracks in the surface, creating what would have been a truly hellish scene.

The study detailing those events is currently being published.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ranger 7

Fifty years ago, NASA's Ranger 7 crashed into the Moon after transmitting back to Earth the best pictures yet of the lunar surface.

The Ranger series was designed to be the scouts for Apollo, photographing the lunar surface and identifying possible sites for manned landings.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Riding On Quantum Physics?

Research teams in China and within NASA seemingly have supported a British researcher who says he has built a space propulsion system that doesn't use propellants.  Such a space drive could open not interplanetary but interstellar flight to humanity.

Scientists aren't sure yet exactly how the system works, but the radio frequency of the electric pulse used may somehow interact with particles at the quantum level.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mining Oxygen

NASA's next Mars rover will study rocks and cache rock samples for eventual transport to Earth, but it will also attempt to distill oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.

Demonstrating that capability would be a major step towards putting humans on Mars.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Skewed Orbits

Astronomers are finding many exoplanets have odd, tilted orbits as compared to the basic orderliness of our own Solar System.

Some of the strange orbits are in multiple star systems, which could explain part of the weirdness, but others are not.  We still have lots to learn in this area.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enceladus' 101 Geysers

A new study finds Saturn's moon Enceladus has 101 geysers in its southern polar region.

The study also suggests the geysers are connected to a large sea under the Enceladus ice shell.  That would mean a spacecraft flying through the geyser plumes could possibly pick up evidence of life in that sea.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Planting Colonies

Cameron Smith, an anthropologist at Portland State, argues human colonies beyond Earth should be large, with 20,000 to 40,000 people, to provide genetic and demographic diversity.

Of course, few if any human colonies have ever been that big right out of the box.  Indeed, all humans alive today can likely be traced genetically to a very few individuals who left Africa around 100,000 years ago.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Observing War

The U. S. Government says it has satellite imagery showing missiles being launched from Russia into Ukraine.

That, of course, could take the crisis to a new level.  If commercial satellites show the same thing, and if those are released to the public, the political situation could change swiftly, putting Russia in a box.  How Vladimir Putin would react is anybody's guess.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Curiosity's Wheels

The surface of Mars is doing a number on the wheels of the Curiosity rover.  Sharp rocks, for example, have cut holes in wheels.

Because the damage seems to be less when Curiosity is in reverse, NASA will drive it backwards over the tougher terrain.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Space Business

Both governments and private groups are looking at shaping humanity's future in space, but corporations are unclear about their rights, under current law, to own property beyond Earth, bring profits made in space home, etc.  Some lawyers say such rights are protected, while others aren't so sure.

That probably means a new treaty is needed.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Organizing The Future

Returning humans to the Moon will likely be a joint effort.  Several major nations have expressed interest over the last few years in participating in an international lunar program.  Various private ventures are also under consideration.

President Obama has expressed interest in joining such a program, but he doesn't want the U. S. to lead it, even though NASA is the obvious agency to lead it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


If Apollo 11 had failed, trapping Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon, for example, President Richard Nixon had prepared a statement he would have delivered.  Having such a statement ready had been suggested to the White House by NASA.

In the statement, Nixon would have committed the nation to sending other men to the Moon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Settling Luna

Settling the Moon will be a challenge, not least because of the radiation, meteorite impacts, and huge temperature swings at the surface.

Living underground would deal with all those problems, however, and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is finding lava tubes and lava pits that could shelter settlements.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of humanity's first landing on another world.  For many of those years many people have suggested making July 20 a national or even worldwide holiday.

It's an interesting proposal.  If we go on to settle space, it will probably happen.  If human civilization begins to crumble, however, such a holiday could serve as a reminder of what humans can achieve.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ukraine Shoot Down

U. S. military surveillance satellites probably observed the shoot down of the commercial airliner over Ukraine last week.  Such satellites have been constantly monitoring that area for decades, looking for ICBM launches.  A midair explosion big enough to destroy an airliner should be easily seen.

And not only by military satellites.  Commercial satellites are now good enough to pick up such an event.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Alien Life

NASA scientists announced this week they expect to find alien life within the next two decades.

It was a bold prediction, but there are several opportunities to make it come true-- on Mars, on Titan, inside Europa, inside Enceladus, through SETI, through studying the atmospheres of exoplanets....

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Making Martian Gullies

A new study indicates that most of the gullies on Mars were cut by frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice.

Scientists had thought the gullies were made by flowing liquid water, but the study finds they tend to form in winter, when it's too cold for liquid water.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Apollo 11 Plus 45

Today is the 45th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the mission that delivered the first manned landing on another world.

Years later, Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander and first man on the Moon, said he'd thought they had a 50/50 chance of a successful mission and a better chance of getting home alive.  Fortunately, both were accomplished.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Landing Test Fails

SpaceX's attempt to softly land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket failed yesterday when the fuselage collapsed.

More study will be necessary to determine exactly what happened.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SpaceX Launches Six

SpaceX successfully launched six communications satellites atop one Falcon 9 rocket this morning.

The company also intended to test a technique for soft landing the first stage of the rocket, a step towards developing reusable launchers, but, as of this writing, the results of that test are not known.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Decoding ET

Receiving a signal from the stars would be a momentous event, but it would only begin a process.  Understanding the message sent might be the real challenge.

A new book published by NASA looks at how difficult it's been to understand the writings of dead human civilizations-- Sumerian, Egyptian, Maya, etc.-- even though we have the same brain organization those people had, and we perceive the world in basically the same way.  As we'll have no idea how an intelligent alien might think, the book argues, decoding the signal might be much more difficult than some SETI advocates seem to assume.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lightsail 1

The Planetary Society, after years of trying, announced it is going ahead with its project to demonstrate the feasibility of solar sails.

For now, a test flight is scheduled for 2015, with the first full-blown mission slated for 2016.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Angara Flies

The first test launch of Russia's new Angara rocket was a success.

Angara is the first rocket designed and built by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Voyager 1

NASA has confirmed that Voyager 1 is now beyond the effects of the solar wind.  In that respect, it is now in interstellar space.

Gravitationally, however, Voyager 1 is still emphatically within the Solar System.  It will not reach the Sun's Oort Cloud, the realm of comets, for thousands of years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cassini's Grand Finale

The end of the Cassini mission to Saturn is scheduled for September 2017 when the probe will be intentionally flown into the giant planet's atmosphere.

The spacecraft will be ditched into the atmosphere to be sure it never crashes into and possibly contaminates either Titan or Enceladus, two moons that might harbor life.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Impacting Mercury

A new theory based on computer modeling holds that the planet Mercury may have suffered a glancing blow early in its history from a body nearly as big as Earth.

The theory still needs work. but it might explain why Mercury's core is so large in relation to the rest of the planet-- some of the outer shell may have been blown away.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Titan's Salty Ocean

A new study suggests the vast underground ocean of water they think exists within Saturn's huge moon Titan may be as salty as Earth's Dead Sea.

The extreme salinity, coupled with the likelihood the ocean is slowly freezing solid, may limit the chances for extant life there, but life in the past is still a possibility.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Interesting Exoplanet

A rocky world twice as massive as Earth has been found orbiting one star in a double star system at a distance similar to Earth's distance from the Sun.  Both stars in the system, however, are red dwarfs, so the world is likely too cold to support life.

The discovery shows planets can exist in such a situation, which opens vast new possibilities.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Earth is at apogee, its farthest point from the Sun, today.

Most people find that odd, since this is the hottest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, but that's due to axial tilt.  During northern summer, this hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, so the heat that reaches Earth is more concentrated, and thus the season is warmer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hubble As Scout

NASA is using the Hubble Space Telescope to hunt for objects in the Kuiper Belt for its New Horizons spacecraft after its encounter with Pluto.

New Horizons will fly by Pluto next July.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Impact Craters And Life

Events that create impact craters often destroy life, but new studies suggest they could also have more positive consequences.

One study indicates glass created in such a blast can actually preserve fossils, while another study finds the energy and heat generated by an impact can actually create an environment favorable for life.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Cassini At Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft has been exploring Saturn, its rings, and its moons for ten years now.

It's been a remarkable decade.  We've learned much more about Saturn in those years than we had during the whole of human history previously.  We're seeing the true complexity of its vast and beautiful ring system.  And now we know that two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, are legitimate candidates to harbor life.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Angara Delayed

The first launch of Russia's new Angara rocket was delayed this week when computers detected a problem.

Angara is the first new rocket developed by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Orion Progressing

NASA is currently testing the parachute system that will deploy during re-entry of its Orion capsule.  A test drop of the capsule last week went well.

Orion's first spaceflight, which well be unmanned, is scheduled for December.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gliese 832c

Gliese 832c is a super Earth five times more massive than our world.  It is only 16 light years away.  It orbits its red dwarf host star in only 36 days, but that puts it in the tiny star's habitable zone, which means it's a possible home of life.

Some astronomers speculate it may be more of a super Venus, but Gliese 832c will certainly get further study.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Google Buys Skybox

Google announced recently it is acquiring Skybox, the satellite imaging company.  Skybox images will be used to further strengthen Google Maps.

It also, of course, puts another business behemoth in the space arena.  The kind of capital a Google could deploy in space could change everything.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Balloon Test Successful

World View is a company planning to take tourists and researchers to the edge of space under a high altitude balloon, and the latest test flight was a resounding success, establishing a new world record at 120,000 feet.

WV plans to begin commercial operations in 2016.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Magic Island

Cassini's radar beams bouncing off the surface of a huge sea on Saturn's moon Titan found what seemed to be an island that appears and disappears.

It could be several small islands, not one big one.  Or in could be huge bubbles, or waves in the methane sea.  It is, at present, a mystery the Cassini team has dubbed "Magic Island."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Protoplanetary Chemistry

One way to set lower limits on the existence of life in the universe, a new study argues, is to look at the chemistry of protoplanetary discs.

If such discs contain prebiotic molecules that might wind up in the atmospheres of planets that form out of those discs, the possibility of life arising in that system might be increased.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Stiff Arteries

Astronauts may enjoy weightlessness, but physicians have long known extended periods in microgravity is hard on the human body.  A new study suggests such extended stays may stiffen arteries, which could increase the chances for high blood pressure and other problems.

More work needs to be done, but the study reminds us how difficult and dangerous spaceflight is.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cassini At Titan

Cassini will fly within about 2,300 miles of Saturn's huge moon Titan today.

Team scientists will use the flyby to study Titan's atmosphere and surface.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lunar Palace 1

China recently completed a 105-day test of technologies for a space station and a possible lunar base.  The project was called Lunar Palace 1.

China demonstrated in the project one of the most advanced closed loop life support systems in the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Arizona Embraces Space

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will sign a bill into law tomorrow that will encourage commercial space companies to operate in the Grand Canyon state.

Arizona thus joins several other states that are actively supporting the growing space industry.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Charon's Ocean

Researchers are suggesting Pluto's largest moon, Charon, may once have had a subsurface liquid water ocean, like Saturn's Enceladus and Jupiter's Europa.  They speculate that if Charon's orbit around Pluto was once more eccentric than it is now gravitational interaction between the two bodies would have created friction within Charon, thus heat, and thus, possibly, liquid water.  That same interaction would have eventually circularized Charon's orbit, freezing the little world solid.

The New Horizons spacecraft arrives at Pluto next summer, and should provide new data about Charon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Virgin Galactic Is Close

Establishing a commercial spaceline has been tough, but Virgin Galactic is on the brink.

Negotiating the regulatory environment within which VG will operate is largely completed, as is VG's part of Spaceport America in New Mexico.  Only a few scheduled test flights remain, and a second carrier aircraft and spacecraft are already under construction.  Commercial flights could still commence yet this year.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Full Moon

Many people will see a full moon tonight, on Friday the 13th.  It will be the last Friday the 13th full moon until August, 2049.

So, this one could be historic.  After something around four billion years, this could be the last Friday the 13th full moon in which the Moon will be uninhabited.  That's an extraordinary thought.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

McKay On Life

Chris McKay argues scientists should develop a list of factors that would be necessary for life as we begin the serious study of exoplanets.

He said his favorite candidate for life now is Kepler 186f, a mega-Earth in its star's habitable zone.  If oxygen is found in significant quantity in that atmosphere, he says, that would clinch the case for life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Climate Changw And Life

Stars brighten as they age.  That means the Sun was dimmer and cooler when life arose on Earth.  It's also a fact that life would not have survived on Earth under a brightening Sun had not climate change moderated that heating.

It's been a balancing act for billions of years.  That might argue that alien civilizations are rare.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Alien Civilizations

When meeting aliens is discussed, the underlying assumption often seems to be that all alien civilizations will be the same.  That assumption is sloppy.

If we meet one spacefaring ET, there will likely be a few more such civilizations.  There will also be dozens, or hundreds, or thousands more that do not have spaceflight.  Each will be unique.

Just something to keep in mind.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Red Dwarfs And Life

We now know red dwarf stars have planetary systems.  A new study suggests, however, that such planets might not be good candidates to harbor life.

In order to be in the habitable zone of a red dwarf, a planet would have to orbit very close to the star, which would expose that world to extremely powerful solar flares and intense radiation.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Arsia Mons

Arsia Mons is a ten-mile high shield volcano on Mars.  New research suggests its also a possible abode of life.

The volcano erupted about 210 million years ago, researchers say, when Mars was covered by water ice glaciers.  The reasoning is basic: If you have water, an energy source, organic stuff, and enough time, life may arise.

Friday, June 6, 2014

NRC Endorses Lunar Return

The National Research Council is releasing a report to Congress regarding the future of human spaceflight that endorses a return to the Moon as the next major step out.

The report calls humans on Mars the "horizon goal," but argues a lunar return is important in the shorter term, not least because other nations have expressed interest in an international lunar base program.  Such an effort could lay the organizational groundwork for an international Mars program.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

2014 HQ 124

Asteroid 2014 HQ 124 is about 1,100 feet across and will fly by Earth at something around 750,000 miles this weekend.

Even with its size, the asteroid was only discovered two months ago.  Were it to hit Earth, it would pack the power of a hydrogen bomb.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Kapetyn b

Kapetyn b is a super Earth only 13.5 light years away.  It's also in the habitable zone of its red dwarf parent star.

Astronomers put the age of Kapetyn b at 11.5 billion years-- just 2 billion years younger than the universe itself-- making it the oldest world capable of supporting life yet found.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mega Earth

Astronomers have found a rocky world 17 times as massive as Earth.  Labeled Kepler-10c, they're calling it a "mega Earth."

Kepler-10c is not likely to support life as it orbits too close to its star, but it seems to be very old, suggesting rocky worlds could have formed early on.  That would have implications for life.

Monday, June 2, 2014


A new study finds a relationship between the metallicity of a star-- that is, the amount of metals a star contains-- and the size of its planets.  The higher the percentage of metals, the larger the planets.

Astronomers, by the way, count as metals all elements except hydrogen and helium.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Both Voyager spacecraft launched nearly forty years ago are still functioning, and the current project team expects them to last another ten.

The Voyagers, the Pioneers, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity-- all vastly exceeded their projected life spans.  We should remember that.  It tells us what intelligent, dedicated humans can accomplish.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dragon V2

Elon Musk introduced the manned version of his Dragon cargo capsule last night.  It will carry up to seven people and will have the ability to land on land, which would make the turnaround for the reusable ship faster and simpler.

It's called the Dragon V2, which has unfortunate historical echoes.  The Nazis terrorized Britain with their V-2 rockets.  Perhaps the name will change.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Manned Dragon

SpaceX will unveil the manned configuration of its Dragon capsule tonight.

Dragon will be able to carry up to seven people, equal to the old space shuttle.  It's first manned flight could come in 2017.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


A Swedish group is looking to erect a small red house on the Moon next year.  The house, modeled after a typical house in Sweden, would self-assemble.

The group sees the project as a demonstration of what people can accomplish by working together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Human Space Exploration

Adam Steltzner, NASA's lead engineer on the development of the Mars Curiosity rover and its innovative descent strategy, is also an advocate of human space exploration.  He said recently he expects to see humans on Mars.

He thinks humanity should spread throughout the galaxy, too, even terraforming worlds to suit human needs.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On The Other Hand.............

Seth Shostak predicts we will find alien life within the next twenty years or so, but NASA scientists and Sara Seager of MIT are more cautious.

They agree we will soon have the technology to detect life elsewhere, but they argue being able to do it is one thing, actually doing it is something else.  Seager says simple luck will be a factor.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

SETI And Congress

Seth Shostak and Dan Werthimer of the SETI Institute testified before a House committee last week, with Shostak saying there's a good chance we will find alien life-- whether microbial life within this Solar System or intelligent life beyond-- within the next twenty years or so.  Werthimer agreed, outlining several approaches SETI searches are using or will be using soon.

Shostak made a similar prediction a few years ago, so it's encouraging he's found nothing since to change his mind.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Martian Crater

Bruce Cantor does a daily weather report for Mars.  While preparing that report recently, he found a new crater.  By going back through the images of the area taken by orbiting spacecraft, he determined the impact that created the crater occurred March 27 or 28, 2012.

The crater is 143 meters wide, making it the largest new crater yet discovered anywhere by orbiting spacecraft.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Groovy Phobos

Astronomers have known since 1976 that Mars' little moon Phobos is covered in grooves.  A new study suggests those grooves were made after huge bodies crashed into Mars, blowing out ejecta that strafed Phobos.

Not everyone buys the hypothesis, but it seems to have some potential.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

InSight Advancing

NASA's InSight Mars lander has passed a major engineering hurdle on its way to the Red Planet to study Mars' interior and evolution.

InSight is scheduled to launch in 2016.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Supporting The Big Bang

Fifty years ago today, physicists Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered the background noise of the universe they eventually pinned down as the echo of the Big Bang, the first direct evidence of that theory.

The discovery was accidental, and the two men tried every other explanation they could think of before being driven to the Big Bang hypothesis.  That's often how science works.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Musk On Mars

Elon Musk says his company, SpaceX, is making progress towards establishing a colony on Mars.  By his calculation, the company will be able to move a person to Mars for $500,000.

If you consider that Virgin Galactic is charging $200,000 for a quick trip to the edge of space, the Mars price would seem to be a bargain.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

K2 For Kepler

NASA has approved a new two-year mission for its Kepler spacecraft.  Dubbed K2, the new mission will have Kepler on the lookout for a variety of things, from exoplanets to supernovas.

Its original exoplanet hunting mission ended when two of four reaction wheels failed, meaning the craft could no long maintain its orientation in space over extended periods with the necessary precision.  The new mission is slightly less demanding in that area.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Great Red Spot Shrinking

Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth itself, may be winding down.  It could disappear entirely within fifteen years, scientists say.

Or not.  Astronomers have been observing the Spot essentially ever since they've had telescopes, nearly 400 years.  During that span, the Spot has nearly disappeared on occasion, but it has always come back strong.  We'll see about this time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Sun And Lightning

A new study notes a connection between particularly powerful solar flare eruptions and lightning flashes on Earth.  The eruptions seem to increase lightning activity.

Scientists aren't sure yet how the process would work, but the correlation seems to be there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Russia Hits Back

The U. S. is applying sanctions against Russia-- including against Russian individuals-- to counter Moscow's actions in Ukraine.  Now, Russia may be striking back.

The Russian deputy prime minister, himself a target of sanctions, has said Russia will no longer sell its RD-180 rocket engine to the U.S. for use in military projects.  He also said Russia does not plan to cooperate with the U. S. on ISS beyond 2020.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hypervelocity Stars

Hypervelocity stars are what the name implies, stars moving at abnormally high speeds; astronomers have recently found a star traveling three times faster than normal stars.  Scientists think such stars are originally in binary systems that venture too close to black holes.  The black hole devours one star and slings the other out of the galaxy.

Astronomers think they can use those stars to learn about dark matter, which seems to surround galaxies. by noting the gravitational influence it exerts on them.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Falcon 9 Delay

SpaceX delayed the next commercial launch of its Falcon 9 rocket this past weekend to study a problem.

The Falcon 9 is to deliver six communications satellites to orbit for ORBCOMM, but the next launch window isn't until late May.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Congress And Space Junk

The committee of the U. S. House charged with overseeing NASA held a hearing Friday to look at the myriad issues involved in dealing with the problem of space junk in low Earth orbit.

That's the good news.  The less good news is that it seems to have taken a Hollywood movie with Sandra Bullock to get Capitol Hill focused on this matter.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Planet X

A durable theory in astronomy holds that the Sun has a large companion far out in the Solar System-- a dim star, a failed star, or a large planet.  Astronomers from Percival Lowell forward have referred to the theoretical body as Planet X.

No such object has yet been found, but astronomers keep searching.  They haven't yet been able to prove Planet X does not exist.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mars One's 705

Mars One has cut its pool of potential Mars colonists from 1,058 to 705 from about 200,000 original applicants.  The number will be whittled down further over the next few years.

Mars One intends to begin the human colonization of Mars in the next decade.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Drilling On Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into its third rock on Mars, going 2.6 inches deep.  This rock is a different color than the first two drilled into, so NASA hopes it will yield different information.

Curiosity's suite of scientific instruments will analyze the samples gathered by the drilling in the days ahead.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Greenhouse On Mars?

NASA is considering adding a small greenhouse to its next Mars rover mission, scheduled to land on Mars in 2021.  The experiment would test how Earth plants would do under Martian conditions that involve high radiation levels and only about 40 percent of Earth normal gravity.

The experiment would be the first step towards the huge greenhouses necessary to provide food and oxygen for the human colonization of Mars.

Monday, May 5, 2014


The crisis in Ukraine seems to be deepening.  Kiev has taken military action against "pro-Russian separatists," and lives have been lost.   Russia has a substantial military force amassed on the Ukrainian border and is threatening to cross that border to protect ethnic Russians.

How much escalation of the Ukraine crisis the U. S.-Russia space partnership can stand is unclear, but if Russia openly, militarily intervenes, we have to assume all bets will be off.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another Close Shave

An asteroid about 25 feet long which was discovered just two days earlier flew inside the Moon's orbit yesterday.

As astronomers find more asteroids, they find more whizzing very close to Earth.  This one posed no threat to our world, but one will eventually.  Planetary defense needs to be somewhere on politicians' lists of priorities.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Life On Ganymede?

Astronomers have thought for a while that Jupiter's giant moon Ganymede had a subsurface ocean of liquid water.  A new study suggests the moon might also have a rocky ocean floor.

That's significant because chemical reactions between liquid water and a rocky surface may lead to life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Very Short Day

Astronomers have been able to measure the length of day of an exoplanet.  It's a short day.  It's also a huge world.  At ten times the mass of Jupiter, a day on this world is only about eight hours long.  By comparison, a day on Jupiter is a bit more than nine hours long.

That's not all.  The exoplanet seems to be very young-- maybe only 20 million years old-- and astronomers think the day there will get even shorter.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tiny Black Holes

Russia has a long, proud history in theoretical physics.  Now, a pair of Russian physicists is suggesting dark matter may be made up of black holes smaller than atoms.

Other physicists reject the notion, but it seems to be consistent with quantam theory.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nearby Brown Dwarf Found

Astronomers have discovered a brown dwarf only about 7.2 light years away, making it one of the Sun's closest neighbors.  A brown dwarf is generally referred to as a failed star-- an object with a composition similar to a star that lacks the mass needed to ignite nuclear reactions.

The object hasn't been found before now because it's so dim in visible light.  It was found by using the infrared part of the spectrum.  It's also small as these things go-- only a few times more massive than Jupiter;.

Monday, April 28, 2014

SpaceX Success

After successfully launching Dragon to ISS recently, SpaceX was able to bring a launcher stage down vertically to the ocean, a big step towards executing the soft landing of a rocket so that it can be used again, perhaps even later that day.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk sees rocket reusability as the key in lowering the cost of space operations.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Life On Exomoons

Even though the first exomoon-- a moon orbiting an exoplanet-- has yet to be discovered, a new study argues exomoons could also be habitats for life.

The simplest scenario would be for a large enough moon to be in orbit around an exoplanet which itself orbits in the habitable zone of its parent star, but there are other possibilities.  In our own solar system, for example, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus are all candidates to support life even though they are all well beyond the Sun's habitable zone.

Friday, April 25, 2014


The U. S. Air Force's secret spaceplane, the X-37B, has now been in orbit for more than 500 days, far longer than outside observers expected.

USAF spokespeople are in fact doing very little speaking about what the X-37B is up to.  They allow that it's testing new technologies, but that covers so many possibilities that it's essentially meaningless.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Buzz Weighs In

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon,  thinks NASA should send astronauts to an asteroid in deep space rather than bring an asteroid into lunar orbit before sending people to it.

At the Humans 2 Mars conference, Aldrin also argues that a permanent, international base on Mars should be a top priority.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Exploration Versus Pioneering

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently drew a distinction between exploration and pioneering.  Exploration, he suggested, implies going out and coming right back, while pioneering means going out and staying permanently.  NASA, he declared, is in the pioneering business.

All that is fine, and even useful, but declaring is simple enough.  NASA and Congress need to put together a coherent, workable, long term manned spaceflight policy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NASA And Mars

NASA leadership says it is pursuing a plan aimed at putting humans on Mars in the 2030s, as tasked by President Obama in 2010.  Many people outside of NASA, however, including some members of Congress, argue NASA needs to lay out a detailed strategy showing how it intends to reach the Red Planet.

The agency is hosting a "Humans To Mars" conference this week in Washington, D. C.  Perhaps NASA will begin to fill in the blanks in its approach there.

Monday, April 21, 2014

LADEE Crashes Into Luna

NASA's LADEE probe was intentionally crashed into the far side of the Moon last Friday.

NASA plans to use its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to find the impact site.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dragon Flies Again

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket again yesterday, sending its Dragon cargo capsule on another supply mission to ISS.

The company is building an impressive launch record as manned Dragon flights approach, perhaps as soon as 2017.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kepler 186f

NASA announced yesterday that, using Kepler data, researchers have discovered an exoplanet only ten percent larger than Earth orbiting its red dwarf parent star in that star's habitable zone.  Those researchers believe it to be a rocky world that could have liquid water on its surface, which means it's a possible abode of life.

Kepler 186f is 500 light-years away, and, very likely, the first of many such worlds to be discovered.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pad 39A Goes Private

In a sign of the times, NASA has negotiated a twenty year lease with SpaceX, giving the company control of Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

Launch Pad 39A saw the launches of such historic missions as Apollo 8 and Apollo 11, plus 82 shuttle flights.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Volcanic Mercury

Scientists using data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft have found there were explosive volcanoes on Mercury for far longer than originally thought.

The standard view has been that Mercury lost most of its volatiles early in its history, but researchers have found pyroclastic ash-- evidence of volcanic eruptions-- in areas that suggest volcanism was active on Mercury for a billion years longer than thought.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Definiing The Oort Cloud

Astronomers in recent years have discovered two dwarf planets researchers suggest may mark the inner edge of the Oort Cloud, the realm of comets.

They also think there could be hundreds of bodies out there 200 miles or more in diameter, plus maybe one or two as big as Earth or Mars.  Many of the bodies observed so far also sport ultra-red material on their surfaces, which might be organics.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lunar Base?

President Obama cancelled NASA's lunar base program in 2010 in favor of a more flexible approach to manned space exploration, with the ultimate goal being landing on Mars in the 2030s.

Many experts, however, say building a manned lunar base should be the next step out.  Such a base, they argue, would serve as a testbed for technologies and techniques for future Mars missions as well as being a focal point for scientific research and further lunar exploration.  Several nations have expressed an interest in participating in an international lunar base program, and some members of Congress favor the lunar base approach, as do some private companies.  There's some chance, therefore, that Mr. Obama's plan will not survive after his administration.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Possible Added Spacewalk

NASA is considering adding a spacewalk to repair a backup computer system on ISS.

The station's primary computer system is operating normally, and the crew is safe-- or as safe as they can be in space-- but having a functioning backup computer is obviously important.

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Exomoon?

Astronomers may have found the first moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system.  If so, it's in an interesting place.  The exoplanet involved would be a rogue planet-- a world whizzing through space on its own terms, not orbiting a star.

Alternatively, the pair of objects could be a failed star and its planet.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Another Mars Rock

The Curiosity rover has come upon a rock on Mars that bears a strong resemblance, in its shape, to Australia.

Is that some sort of sign from a higher intelligence?  Well. yes-- but the intelligence is not alien.  The human brain is excellent at recognizing patterns, and may be just as good at making up patterns where none exist.  That's something to keep in mind whether the subject is Martian geology or Earthly politics.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mars Light

The Curiosity rover took pictures on consecutive days of a bright light on the distant Martian surface.  NASA says it was sunlight glinting off a rock, or perhaps sunlight entering the camera at just the right angle.  UFO researchers are saying it's something else.

We know what Mars is like now, however.  There is no civilization on the surface.  UFOlogists will  have to do much better than this to make their case.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Possible Showstopper

Scientists have known for decades that prolonged exposure to microgravity can harm human vision.  With evidence suggesting that damage might be permanent, some are suggesting this condition might be a showstopper for deep space manned missions, including manned missions to Mars.

A possible counter for the condition would be to spin all or part of a ship to produce artificial gravity, but researchers don't know exactly what causes the problem yet, so any possible fix is premature.

Monday, April 7, 2014

John Lewis, Space Pioneer

The National Space Society is giving Dr. John Lewis its Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering.

Lewis' work has concentrated on defining the composition of asteroids and comets.  He has emphasized both the threat such bodies pose to human civilization and the promise they hold to make that civilization immensely wealthy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NASA, Russia, And Ukraine

NASA, like other U.S. Government agencies, is cutting contact with Russian officials as a sort of protest against the Russian military move into Ukraine.  Contact regarding ISS operations, however, is exempt from the policy.

Since ISS operations represents the lion's share of contact between NASA and Russia, it's not clear the policy change will have much affect in the space area.  If Russia makes another move against Ukraine, however, that could change quickly, even though any interruption in ISS operations would hurt the interests of both Russia and the United States.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Enceladus Ocean Confirmed

Since 2005, scientists have suspected a huge ocean of water ice existed under the ice shell of Saturn's moon, Enceladus.  A new study confirms that, using slight variations in Enceladus' gravitational field to propose an ocean perhaps six miles deep exists under the southern hemisphere.

Further, the study suggests the ocean extends down to a rocky sea floor, increasing the possibility that life might exist there by expanding the range of possible chemical reactions.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Possible Phobos Probe

NASA's Ames Research Center is looking at a low cost mission to one of Mars' two tiny moons. either Phobos or Deimos.  Astronomers think both are captured asteroids.

Ames argues such an orbital mission could be a step towards establishing a human base on, say, Phobos, which in turn could be the first step towards the systematic human exploration of the Red Plane.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Interorbital Success

Interorbital Systems successfully test launched its CPM rocket last Saturday in Mojave, California.  The company calls the launch a "major milestone."  Several CPMs will power IOS' large Neptune launch system.

The CPM was recovered after the launch, and it was in good condition.  It will be re-used-- another big plus for IOS.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Earth-Moon Water

A new study using rock samples taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in the lunar highlands-- the oldest lunar rocks yet collected-- suggests that water on Earth and on the Moon came from the same source.

That, in turn, implies that water somehow survived the fiery collision of Earth and a Mars-sized body which, according to current theory, created the Moon, and that a tiny fraction of that water transferred to the Moon.  It might seem an unlikely possibility at first glance, but the universe is a strange old place.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Orbital Gets Pioneer

Orbital Science's team that developed the Cygnus spacecraft has been presented the Pioneer Award by the National Space Society.

Cygnus will be used to bring supplies to ISS, and, hopefully, other orbital outposts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Big To Supermassive

NFL linemen can have average-sized or even small parents, but a new study suggests that the supermassive black holes at the center of many galaxies grew from "seed" black holes that were themselves huge.

Those findings still need to be confirmed and the process worked out, but if true, this would be one more piece of evidence showing how the universe works.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Curiosity Science

The Curiosity rover has been mostly on the move recently, making time towards reaching Mount Sharp, but NASA has announced the rover will be stopping soon to closely examine some interesting rocks scientists have spotted.  The rocks seem to be of a slightly different type than others in the area.

NASA still plans to reach Mount Sharp sometime in May.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dragon Delayed Again

SpaceX's launch of its next Dragon supply flight to ISS has been delayed again, this time due to faulty U. S. Air Force radar.

The launch is now scheduled for Sunday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NASA And Civilization's Collapse

NASA chief Charles Bolden distanced his agency from an upcoming study of various ways civilizations can collapse.  NASA has been reported as a sponsor of the study, but Bolden says the researchers involved in the study simply used certain research tools developed by NASA.

Bolden says NASA doesn't endorse the study or its conclusions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

U. S.-Russian Launch Goes Ahead

Despite the crisis in Ukraine, the launch of an American-Russian crew to ISS will go ahead as planned today.

Both nations have huge investments in the ISS partnership, but if the Ukrainian situation deteriorates into something approaching war, it's not clear the current space arrangement can be maintained.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Waves On Titan

The Cassini spacecraft at Saturn has imaged what could be sunlight glinting off small waves in a hydrocarbon lake in the north polar region of Titan.

If that interpretation holds up, it will be the first time a sea surface beyond Earth has been directly observed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Solar Magnetic Storms

Planetary defense is usually seen as protecting Earth from asteroid or comet impacts.  Another threat, however, comes from solar magnetic storms.

Such events throw out huge pulses of energy from the Sun.  A direct hit on Earth by a massive solar magnetic storm could knock out satellites, communications networks, and energy infrastructure.  Recovering from such a disaster could take years, and could, therefore, result in the collapse of the civilization we know.  It's another threat planetary defense must counter.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Black Hole? Really??

OPINION:  It's fair to say American television news has been obsessed with the fate of the missing Malaysian airliner.  That story regularly leads news broadcasts, for example-- over the crisis in Ukraine, which has extremely dangerous political potential.

Hopefully, that obsession crested recently when a CNN anchor asked if the plane could have been swallowed by a black hole.  He asked it dismissively, as if to take that off the board, but he did ask it.

If this nation is to survive as a major power through the decades ahead, the American people-- and the American media-- must be able to recognize and ignore scientific nonsense.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Satellite Clues

The search is still on for MH 370.  Now, an Australian satellite has spotted something that could be airliner debris deep in the southern Indian Ocean.

Last week, a Chinese satellite imaged something similar well to the north of this sighting, but that turned out to be unrelated to MH 370.  Planes are being dispatched to check out the Australian discovery.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Active Volcanoes On Venus

Scientists using Europe's Venus Express Orbiter have observed flashes on the planet's surface that they interpret as evidence that Venus still has active volcanoes.

A Venus that retains an energetic interior would force a major revision of our view of the planet.   Erupting volcanoes would also add a final touch to the notion that the surface of Venus is hellish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gravitational Waves Found

Astronomers using a telescope based at the South Pole, in splendid isolation, have discovered gravitational waves in the first split second after the Big Bang, during the inflationary instant of the expansion of the universe.

The particular location and influence of those gravitational waves helped sculpt the universe we see today.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Collapsing Civilizations

NASA has funded a study that tries to identify common factors in why civilizations collapse.  The study cites a few-- among them population, agricultural failure, climate, energy, unequal wealth distribution, etc.  In short, many of the usual suspects.

Oddly, perhaps, since NASA funded it, the study did not try to factor in the effect the industrialization of space would have on the fate of the civilization that accomplished it.  Extending an economy into space would wipe out resource scarcity.  It would drive technological development.  It would vastly increase the wealth available to fund efforts to bring people out of poverty.  Moving into space would lift a civilization to a new level.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dragon Delay

The launch of the next Dragon supply mission to ISS has been delayed at least two weeks, SpaceX says.

The company said the delay would allow it to make additional checks to allow the best chance for a successful flight.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cislunar Infrastructure

Part of building a strong economy in the Earth-Moon system will be establishing fuel depots at key points in free space.  Such stations would allow rockets to fuel up in space.

That, in turn, would mean rockets need not carry a full load of fuel all the way out from Earth, thus increasing the size of the payload, or reducing the size of the rocket.  Establishing and maintaining a system of such depots might be expensive, but in the long run, it would pay off handsomely, especially if that fuel-- hydrogen and oxygen-- were manufactured on the Moon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No Airliner Yet

China's news agency reported yesterday that a Chinese satellite may have spotted the wreckage of the missing Malaysian airliner.  Subsequent investigation, however, showed that not to be the case.

The part of the world involved in the search is largely ocean, so finding the plane is proving difficult.  Satellites could be helpful-- they've picked up no explosions in the air, for example-- but that area isn't as thoroughly covered by satellites as other areas.  The role of satellites in this search may be to put upper limits on the possible.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden insists the Ukraine crisis, which has the United States and Russia on opposing sides of a major international issue given the Russian move into Crimea, will not affect the deal NASA has with Russia to deliver astronauts to ISS and bring them home.

That may or may not hold true, depending on how things develop.  Russia needs the hard currency it gets for the flights, and it wants to be seen as a major space power, but it seems ready to pay a high price for Crimea.  On the other hand, the situation has moved some members of Congress to call for increased support for the companies developing private manned spacecraft so that Americans can get back to flying American ships as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Big Mission For SpaceX

The next Dragon supply flight to ISS, scheduled for launch Saturday, will feature an attempt by SpaceX to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, hopefully in reusable condition.

That would be another step towards the company's goal of completely reusable launchers that can be turned around quickly by a small crew, thus drastically reducing the cost of space operations.

Monday, March 10, 2014


The new COSMOS, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, debuted on FOX last night.  As would've been expected,  it was a well produced, visually interesting effort.  The first show featured, among other things, the story of Giordano Bruno, the sixteenth century Catholic priest who argued every star in the sky was a sun with its own family of planets.  That was contrary to Catholic doctrine at the time, and Bruno, refusing to back down, was imprisoned by the Church, tortured. and burned at the stake.

Some may wonder why FOX, the American network most closely associated with fundamentalist Christianity, would carry COSMOS, which will often be contrary to religious interpretations of the universe.  It's an interesting question.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Red Dragon

A new study finds that a modified version of SpaceX's Dragon capsule could carry out a sample return mission to Mars.  A sample of Mars gathered by an earlier rover, preferably from feet below the surface, would be transferred to the so-called Red Dragon for the trip back to Earth.

The study contemplates a 2022 launch of Red Dragon, and assumes a 2020 NASA rover mission that collects and caches a sample.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cosmos Returns

The acclaimed science television series COSMOS returns in an updated version this month on Fox.

Famed astronomer Carl Sagan hosted the original, but Dr. Sagan is gone now.  Replacing him is a man who has taken up Sagan's mantle in other ways, as well-- astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Two Days In A Row

Today, for the second day in a row, a small asteroid is shooting past Earth at a distance well inside the Moon's orbit.  Both were only discovered this year, the second on March 4.

Neither poses any threat-- but they could have.  These close cosmic shaves should serve as more reminders that developing a planetary defense capability is a good idea.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NASA Looks At Europa

In its 2015 budget request, NASA is asking for $15 million to begin studying sending a probe to Jupiter to investigate its ice-encased moon, Europa.  The mission would launch around 2025.

Even though Europa is bathed in radiation and far outside the Sun's habitable zone, it's seen as a prime candidate for harboring life deep in its ocean under its ice shell.  That's something to remember as we look for life further afield.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Stars Aren't Lonely

A new study suggests that nearly all stars have at least one planet.  Most have more than one.

That implies planetary formation is a normal part of star formation.  It also means that life beyond Earth will have plenty of chances to take hold.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscars For GRAVITY

The movie GRAVITY, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, picked up 7 Oscars last night, including the one for best director.

The movie was lauded for its realistic depiction of the microgravity environment in low Earth orbit.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Venus And Mars

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by Dennis Tito, is proposing a manned mission that would fly by both Venus and Mars before returning home-- a remarkable journey.  To take advantage of the necessary planetary alignment, the mission would launch in 2021.

To fly the mission, however, the Foundation needs NASA's help.  Specifically, it wants to use the heavy lift launcher NASA is developing, as well as NASA's Orion capsule.  Both the rocket and Orion, of course, are intended to support deep space manned missions.

Congress might have an interesting decision to make shortly.  Given its performance over recent years, however, Congress will likely punt on this one.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Another Martian Meteorite Controversy

Researchers have found tiny structures in another meteorite from Mars, suggesting the possibility of microbial life on the Red Planet.  Nobody is saying this new discovery proves life, but placed in the broad context of a wet early Mars, it is one more piece of a mosaic.

The first such discovery was the Allen Hills meteorite controversy in 1996.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Exoplanets Galore

NASA has announced confirmation of 715 new worlds detected by its Kepler spacecraft, bringing the total number of confirmed exoplanets to something approaching 1,800.

Most of the announced worlds are only slightly larger than Earth.  This batch covered only the first two years of the Kepler mission.  Astronomers expect to confirm several hundred more in the second two years of Kepler observations, including some Earth-like worlds in the habitable zones of their parent stars.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Venus Option

Mars is seen by virtually everyone as the target for mankind's first interplanetary voyage.  Mars has the possibility of life, after all-- either extinct or extant.  Mars also has an incredible surface where humans can land, explore, and live.

Venus has neither the real possibility of life nor a ready surface.  However, if our first interplanetary voyage will not involve a landing on the planet, Venus has some things to recommend it.  First, when a trip would be undertaken, Venus would be closer to Earth than Mars ever is, making for a shorter mission.  Second, solar power could be used more easily at Venus.  Third, the major science to be done at Venus is the study of its atmosphere, which could be pushed forward by a properly equipped manned spacecraft in the area.

NASA is focused on Mars, but a private effort to Venus?  Who knows?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Legs For Falcon 9

The next launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will feature landing legs attached to the first stage.

The rocket won't soft land after doing its main job, but the plan is for future rockets to do so, allowing them to be re-used and thus cutting the cost of space operations.  The next launch will test the flight characteristics of the rocket with legs.

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Lunar Crater

Last September, a rock between 2 and 4.5 feet across slammed into the Moon at about 36,000 miles an hour, NASA revealed yesterday.  The impact created a crater 131 feet across.

The event was visible with the naked human eye from Earth.  Light created by the impact lasted eight seconds.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Backwards On Mars

NASA knew the Martian surface is rough, but it seems to be taking a bigger toll on Curiosity's six steel wheels than expected.  So, last week, controllers drove the rover backwards for a stretch in an attempt to relieve some of the stress.

The rover might be driven backwards periodically on the way to Mount Sharp, which it should reach in June.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Musk Gets Heinlein

The National Space Society is presenting Elon Musk its Robert A. Heinlein Award for his work as a space entrepreneur.

Musk founded and directs Space-X, which is making progress towards its goal of creating reusable spacecraft and launchers in order to drastically reduce the cost of space operations.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Biological Bottleneck

Settling the Moon will involve many factors, but the key will be whether humans can procreate and have their fetuses develop normally in low gravity states.  We have evidence that other mammalian fetuses do not develop properly in microgravity.

If lunar gravity is enough to support normal fetal development and birth,  we'll be off to the races.  If not, settling space will have to take a different tack.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russian Blast Plus One Year

A year ago, a space rock came undetected out of the glare of the Sun and exploded over Russia, injuring over 1,000 people.  It could have been much worse.

The event has spurred the UN, NASA, and others to take planetary defense more seriously.  Hopefully, that momentum will be maintained.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Setting Ground Rules

Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace is calling for clear rules-- maybe even a new treaty-- to lay out exactly what rights private enterprise will have on the Moon.

The protection of property, patent, and intellectual rights, guarantees that profits go to the producer of those profits, and access to a powerful court system are all necessary for the creation of a vibrant lunar economy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

NSS Takes On NEOs

The National Space Society is calling for increased attention to be paid to Near-Earth Objects in order to find dangerous ones before they find us.

NSS is also calling on space faring nations to add one percent to their space budgets and put that money toward planetary defense.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Asteroid 2005 EM26

Asteroid 2005 EM26 will make a close pass of Earth Monday.  There's no danger of a collision, which is good because the thing is the size of three football fields.

This encounter comes a year after two close approaches occurred the same day, including the unexpected one that exploded over Russia.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


UNSEALED: ALIEN FILES is another television documentary series focused on the UFO phenomenon, this one on Destination America.  Watching a few episodes suggests this series takes a darker, more alarmist view of the subject-- even to the point of questioning whether some world leaders are in fact aliens out to destroy humanity.

That's the trouble with series television-- the need to fill airtime is constantly there.  Too often for the credibility of the effort, that pressure produces silly stuff.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yutu Still Around

China announced its lunar rover, Yutu, dead after failing to make contact with it after a long, brutally cold lunar night.  After the announcement, however, contact was made.

Engineers are working to bring Yutu fully back.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The UN And Planetary Defense

The United Nations has established a working group to coordinate efforts to protect Earth from asteroid and comet strikes.

The first task of the group will be to establish the actual level of risk, but it's also charged with developing ways to deflect dangerous bodies, and with planning responses to strikes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Charles Darwin

Today would have been Charles Darwin's 205th birthday.  His theory of evolution is one of the pillars of modern science.

It's good to keep Darwin in mind.  We have made mind boggling progress across a broad front of disciplines since his day.  Clearly, a technological civilization can arise with stunning speed.  That's good news for ET hunters.  The question is whether such civilizations sustain themselves over some long term.  If they do, part of the reason probably involves a move into space.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Martian Water Still Elusive

Studying images of streaks that run down slopes on Mars during warmer periods, scientists are trying to establish that running water exists today on Mars, at least under certain circumstances.  So far, however, they haven't been able to close the deal.

The streaks could be the result of running water, or brine, but they could also be caused by something else.  Settling the matter may have to wait for the next generation of Mars probe.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Success By 2040?

Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute says we may well find intelligent alien life by 2040.

Shosttak notes that data from Kepler suggest that Earth-like worlds are abundant in the galaxy, and that by 2040 SETI could have surveyed one million star systems.   He thinks that could be enough to find neighbors.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Look Homeward, Rover

The Curiosity rover recently took its first images of the Earth and its Moon in the Martian sky.  Both seem to be simply bright stars, as Mars appears in our sky.

Since the Earth-Moon system is inside Mars' orbit, however, a capable telescope on Mars will show the Earth and Moon going through phases, just as Mercury and Venus do from Earth.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Shatner On Mars Rock

William Shatner, the legendary Captain Kirk in "Star Trek," twittered NASA recently about a rock that seemed to simply appear in an image taken by Curiosity.  Shatner asked if there are Martian rock throwers.

NASA can't explain the sudden appearance of the rock quite yet, but doubts there are rock throwers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New Martian Crater

NASA has released images taken by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that show a new crater on Mars.  It cannot be more than about three years old.  The crater is about 100 feet across, has a prominent ray system, and material from the impact that blasted the crater was thrown at least nine miles away.

Mars is consistently hit by small objects, but the craters created are rarely as large as this one.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Polaris Brightening

Polaris has been the North Star for thousands of years, but for the past few centuries it's been getting brighter.

Astronomers have known for roughly one century that Polaris is a Cepheid variable.  It pulses in brightness over a cycle.  Using both current and historical data, however, a team has determined that Polaris is brighter now than it was centuries ago, and that it continues to brighten.  So do other Cepheids.  Since Cepheids are used to determine distances in the universe based on their reliability, understanding the unexpected brightening is important.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

LADEE Extended

The mission of NASA's LADEE spacecraft, which studies lunar dust, has been extended another 28 days.  During that time it will drop into an extremely low lunar orbit to get even better data.

Understanding the characteristics and behavior of lunar dust will be crucial to planning future operations on the Moon.