Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Big Cycle

The universe supposedly started with the Big Bang, but that begs the questions-- what was before the Bang, and what caused the Bang?  Some physicists argue those questions have no meaning, but others, including Einstein, have proposed variations on the cyclic universe theory-- that the universe expands and contracts, crunches and bangs, in a cycle that goes on forever.

Science, in fact, has no idea as yet how the universe began.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Missile Defense

Given the dangerous situation in the Middle East, which could shortly involve ICBMs from Iran capable of reaching Europe and America, the U. S. House is debating strengthening the nation's missile defense capability.

The Armed Services Committee has voted to allocate money to develop a multi-object kill vehicle, which could take out multiple incoming warheads with a single American launch.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Salty Water On Mars

There is some indication that salty water may flow down slopes on Mars during warmer times.  Aquafirs might even exist today.

Such places would be obvious early targets in the search for life, but some scientists caution against going to them with rovers for fear of contaminating them with Earth microbes.  It's an interesting problem that will need to be addressed soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Market For SpaceX

The U. S. Air Force has certified that SpaceX is eligible to compete for contracts to launch military and spy satellites.

That opens a lucrative new market for the company as it continues to challenge the Boeings of the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Solar Sails

Assuming all goes as planned, The Planetary Society will soon be launching a solar sail into space.  It will largely be a technology demonstration flight, proving concepts and showing solar sails are in fact practical in space.

Solar sails ride the solar wind much as sails on boats ride Earth's winds.  They could be useful propulsion systems for deep space cargo flights, for example.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Martian Methane

NASA probes have detected methane in Mars' atmosphere a few times over the decades.  Methane would suggest Mars is alive-- biologically, geologically, or both.

The problem is the detections have been intermittent, possibly suggesting bursts of activity that releases methane.  Further study is needed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Slippery Slopes

The Curiosity rover has, literally, ran into some slippery slopes on Mars.  While exploring the base of Mount Sharp, the six-wheeled vehicle has run into areas where it failed to get good traction.

NASA has plotted detours around areas that are questionable.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Going To Pluto

Could humans fly to Pluto any time soon?  It turns out a propulsion scheme exists to allow such a mission.  A ship propelled by a succession of fusion explosions-- thermonuclear bombs-- could reach Pluto in a year or two.

That tells you, by the way, just how far we are from interstellar travel.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Another Mission

The fourth mission of the USAF's X-37B spaceplane is underway.

Unfortunately, we don't know what happened on the first three missions, and the USAF is similarly silent on the goals of this flight, except to say technology will be tested.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Big Planet, Tiny Star

HATS-6 is a red dwarf 500 light years away.  It's about as wide as Jupiter.  In tight orbit around it is a world about the size of Saturn.

Scientists don't know how such a large planet developed around such a small star.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


A new concept being looked at by NASA is called MARSDROP.  It would put tiny probes packed with instruments under parawings and fly them through the Martian atmosphere to land in spots that are otherwise inaccessible.

The same approach could work on other worlds with atmospheres, like Venus or Titan.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Planetary Defense

NASA and ESA are jointly pursuing a project to practice how to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.  A NASA probe will slam into an asteroid while an ESA probe observes and collects data.

The encounter is scheduled for 2022.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Black Holes And Dark Matter

A new theory suggests black holes could be used to help finally identify dark matter.  The idea is that if dark matter particles in orbit around a black hole collide and annihilate each other, that would produce gamma rays that could be detected.

One big problem with the theory, however, is that physicists aren't sure the collision of dark matter particles would produce gamma rays.

Friday, May 15, 2015


NASA's New Horizons probe has begun its search of Pluto's environs for possible additional moons and such.  So far, 5 moons have been discovered.

New Horizons begins its formal encounter with Pluto in July.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Salt On Europa?

A new study suggests the dark lines on Europa's icy surface may be irradiated salt.

That would in turn suggest the water ocean under the ice is also salty.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Water On Mars

A new study suggests Mars may have had substantially more water in its first billion years than it has now.

That does not necessarily mean the planet was once warmer and more hospitable to life, however.  The water may have been locked in ice as it is now, flowing across the surface only in periodic bursts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gwynne Shotwell

Gwynne Shotwell, chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in an interview on CNBC this morning that the company should be able to send humans to Mars within a decade or two.

That's an ambitious goal, but unlike Mars One, so far, SpaceX is actually developing the hardware that might allow it to take that shot.

Monday, May 11, 2015


The USAF's secretive X-37B unmanned spaceplane is set to launch again later this month.  Its previous mission lasted more than 600 days.

This upcoming mission seems focused on testing other technology, not the vehicle itself, which might suggest the X-37B, whatever it does, is becoming operational, if it's not already.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Phobos By 2033

Momentum seems to be building within NASA for an approach to putting humans on Mars by first landing on Mars' moon Phobos.  A study suggests that approach could be executed without substantial increases in NASA's projected budgets.

The plan calls for establishing a base on Phobos in 2033, and the first manned landing on Mars by 2039-- 70 years after Apollo 11.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Progrress 59 Falls

Russia's Progress 59 freighter, which failed to deliver its cargo to ISS, fell back to Earth yesterday, barreling into the Central Pacific.

Likely, therefore, it caused no injuries or damage.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dragon Escape System

SpaceX has successfully tested a system that will lift a Dragon capsule and its crew away from the rocket in case of a launch emergency.

The space shuttle, for example, had no such safety system.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Martian Gullies

A new study of gullies on Mars suggests flowing water may exist in periods over time, perhaps related to the changing tilts of Mars' axis.

The latest period of flowing water may have been only 500,000 years ago.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Opportunity Moves On

Lest we forget, NASA's rover Opportunity is still operating on Mars.  Recently, it documented a rock spire, perhaps ten feet tall, inside a small, shallow crater within the large crater, Endeavor.

Opportunity has been exploring Mars for well over eleven years.

Monday, May 4, 2015


DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced technology development arm, is in the early days of building a reusable spaceplane, dubbed the XS-1.

The goal of the project is a vehicle capable of ten launches in ten days.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

HD 7924

The star HD7924, which is about 54 light years away, has at least three super Earths in its planetary system, according to new research.  They are six to eight times as massive as Earth.

All three orbit HD 7924 closer than Mercury does the Sun, so they aren't top candidates to support life.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lunar Base

Johann-Dietrich Worner, the incoming ESA chief, has called for an international base on the far side of the Moon as the next big project after ISS.

He chooses the far side because of the research possibilities there, cut off from Earth's electromagnetic noise.