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.