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Space spy? NASA researcher, a Chinese national, arrested on plane bound for China

Aerospace contractor Bo Jiang, who is accused by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) of being a spy, made a first appearance in federal court on Monday. The Chinese national worked on contract at NASA's Langley's Research Center in Hampton, VA.

Federal agents grabbed him over the weekend just as he was boarding a flight from Dulles airport (in DC) to Beijing. He is charged with making false statements to U.S. authorities by failing to disclose all of the electronic devices he was carrying on his one-way flight, and has since been jailed.

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Apollo F-1 engines recovered from Atlantic ocean floor by Bezos Expeditions

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has exciting news out today. Apollo mission F-1 enginges have been recovered from the bottom of the sea.

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Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project: how you can help save historic space data

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was started by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing in 2008. They obtained the original analog tape drives from lunar missions in the '60s, which were literally covered in dust in a farmer’s barn, and they also got their hands on a complete collection of Lunar Orbiter analog data tapes that held a full set of all images carried back to Earth by the five spacecraft that flew between 1966 and 67.

Amazing, historic stuff. But all of these old media formats are fragile, and preservation can be a long and tedious process.

Cowing and Wingo funded the archival effort themselves in the beginning, then secured some funding from NASA. But the NASA funding was modest, and has run out; the guys have been funding the project themselves, and they don't have the resources they need. They have exceeded the requirements of NASA’s funding, but just haven't been able to retrieve and digitally archive all of these irreplaceable historic space images—yet.

So they're crowdsourcing funds on RocketHub. They've raised about 1/3 of their goal at the time of this blog post, and they have only 5 days left.

Miles O'Brien did a "This week in Space" webshow episode about the project back in 2010; check it out above.

Below, more on the project from Cowing, who is also the guy behind NASAwatch.

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A gravity map of the Moon

Gravity isn't uniform. Denser planets and objects in space — that is, things with more mass to them — experience a stronger pull of gravity. But even if you zoom in to the level of a single planet (or, in this case, our Moon), gravity isn't uniform all the way around. That's because the mass of the Moon isn't uniform, either. It varies, along with the topography. In some places, the Moon's crust is thicker. Those places have more mass, and thus, more gravitational pull.

This map, showing changes in density and gravity across the surface of the Moon, was made from data collected by Ebb and Flow — a matched set of NASA probes that mapped the Moon's gravitational field before being intentionally crashed on its surface last December. By measuring the gravitational field, these probes told us a lot about how the density of the Moon varies which, in turn, tells us a lot about topography.

You can read more about the probes (and see some videos they took of the lunar surface) at the NASA Visualization Explorer.

How bad research gets published (and promoted)

In 2010, a group of scientists claimed to have found bacteria that could build its DNA using arsenic, instead of the phosphorous used by the rest of Earth's life forms. Within days, the research behind "arsenic life" was under serious scrutiny and we now know that it was totally wrong. But the work was peer-reviewed. It was sponsored by NASA. How do so many experts make such a big mistake? Dan Vergano at USA Today has an excellent article looking at just that — and it includes the peer review comments that helped the arsenic life paper get published. Though normally secret, Vergano got a hold of them through a Freedom of Information Act request. Maggie

Meet Curiosity rover's earthbound sibling


Photo: Glenn Fleishman

Go and check out Glenn Fleishman's fantastic set of photos from the Jet Propulsion Lab's sandbox, where the scientists get to hang out and play with one of Curiosity rover's siblings.

Eye of the furnace: Hubble captures close-up of spiral galaxy NGC 1097

From NASA's Image of the Day blog: "This face-on galaxy, lying 45 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is particularly attractive for astronomers. NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy. Lurking at the very center of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun is gradually sucking in the matter around it. The area immediately around the black hole shines powerfully with radiation coming from the material falling in."

NASA Johnson Style (Gangnam Style Parody)

Best one yet, guys! NASA Johnson Style is a volunteer outreach video project created by the students of NASA's Johnson Space Center. It was created as an educational parody of Psy's Gangnam Style. The lyrics and scenes in the video have been re-imagined in order to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center. Lyrics and "making of" information here! (thanks, Aileen Graef)

We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Miles O’Brien remembers Commander Gene Cernan’s last words from the moon, lofty, rehearsed and memorized: “as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.”

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40th anniversary of the Blue Marble photo

LIFE blue marble

Today is the 40th anniversary of the "Blue Marble," the iconic photo taken by the crew of the Apollo 17. More on the photo and its impact at LIFE.com and Wikipedia. Here's NASA's original caption:

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is Madagascar. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast."

What's up with NASA's warp drive spaceship?

Here's the best way I can sum up this story: Yes, some NASA scientists are working on a design for a warp drive. No, that doesn't mean warp drives are real.

Warp drives — as a purely theoretical thing and/or science-fiction plot device — involve manipulating space-time to allow a spaceship to go faster than the speed of light. It's basically loophole that would allow you to get around those pesky laws of physics. Swiss bank account:taxes::Warp drives:speed of light. You get the picture.

Harold White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center is currently leading an effort to design a warp drive space ship. But, as Amy Teitel explains in a story for Vice's Motherboard, the fact that this is happening does not necessarily mean a real working warp drive is possible. It's more about the fact that NASA is partly in the business of letting really smart people try things that are kind of crazy and unlikely, if they can back up the idea with a reasonably plausible hypothesis. Speculative research is a thing that happens.

The problem is that breaking the light barrier isn’t at all like breaking the sound barrier. The sound barrier–properly, the aerodynamic effects of pressure waves interacting with a body as it approaches the speed of sound–was broken with a cleverly engineered aircraft and an at-the-time state of the art rocket engine.

Bell’s X-1 was, importantly, a physical aircraft made of matter, not made of sound. But the atoms and molecules that make up all matter are connected by electromagnetic fields, and that’s the same stuff that light is made of. So when it comes to breaking the light barrier, it’s like breaking through light with light (sort of… ask Brian Greene). As NASA poses the question, “How can an object travel faster than that which links its atoms?” It’s a very different matter.

Another issue special relativity brings up is the light speed barrier. Moving takes energy, and the faster you move the more energy you use. So, theoretically, to move at the cosmic speed limit of light you need an infinite amount of energy. That’s a distinct barrier if there ever was one.

Read the rest of the story at Vice's Motherboard

Cool things to find (Curiosity parody of "Dumb ways to die")

What might the Curiosity rover find on Mars? So many cool things. Maybe friends that hug your face! Maybe Nixon's secret tapes! Or maybe even something less easily fit into song lyrics, like significant amounts of Martian methane.

This video, made by Cinesaurus, is a parody of "Dumb Ways to Die", an adorably demented public safety message from Australia's Metro Trains Melbourne. If you've not seen that yet, you should check it out as well.

Thanks to Andrew Balfour and Michael Bernstein!

NASA downplays still-unannounced findings from Mars

Just before Thanksgiving, the lead mission scientist for the Curiosity rover told NPR that his team had found something that would "be one for the history books." Naturally, we all began speculating about the presence of life, giant obelisks, and half-buried Statues of Liberty. Yesterday, however, a different NASA spokesman basically asked the world to not get its hopes up too high, revising the level of importance down from "earthshaking" to "interesting". So far, nobody has said what, exactly, was discovered. (Via Colin Schultz) Maggie

Report: Now that election's decided, NASA may announce new manned lunar mission

Space.com spoke to space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, about rumors that NASA may soon unveil new manned moon missions.

"Plans have probably already been cleared with the Obama Administration but have been kept under wraps in case Republican candidate Mitt Romney won," according to Space.com.

As the Independent notes, these comments sync with remarks by NASA deputy chief Lori Garver at a conference in September. (via Jenny Winder)

This NASA simulation of a galaxy is begging for a snazzy soundtrack

This computer simulation uses what we know about physical forces in the universe to model how a galaxy might have been born, and how it might grow over 13.5 billion years.

This cosmological simulation follows the development of a single disk galaxy over about 13.5 billion years, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. Colors indicate old stars (red), young stars (white and bright blue) and the distribution of gas density (pale blue); the view is 300,000 light-years across. The simulation ran on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and required about 1 million CPU hours. It assumes a universe dominated by dark energy and dark matter.

The result is a beautiful (if silent) video that is significantly labeled as public domain. It seemed like something you guys might enjoy playing around with.

Check out this Wikipedia article for more information on the growth of galaxies

Via labgrab