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.