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.