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.