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.