Saturn's hexagonal pole storm revealed in new Cassini probe shots

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Having settled into orbit around Saturn, the Cassini probe has begun returning new images of the gas giant. The BBC reports that it will be "making a series of daredevil maneuvers" in the coming months, risking doom near Saturn's moons to get better shots of them and the rings.

Cassini began what are known as its ring-grazing orbits on 30 November. Each of these week-long orbits - 20 in all - lifts the spacecraft high above Saturn's northern hemisphere before sending it hurtling past the outer edges of the planet's main rings.

Nasa said that it would release images from future passes that included some of the closest-ever views of the outer rings and small moons that orbit there.

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Earth and Space claws at the imagination, yet remains elegantly real

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Since Daguerre's first images of the moon in 1839, we have sought to capture the essence of the heavens above us through photography. We built observatories equipped with bigger mirrors and better cameras in the hopes that we will be able to see farther and yet more clearly. When those proved to be insufficient, we detached our telescopes from their earthly housings and set them in orbit.

Of course, looking away, out there, was not enough. We needed to be able to look back at where we are, and from where we came. So we sent astronauts into orbit and probes to comets and rovers to distant planets. And we stared at the photographs we collected in the hopes that they could tell us something more, something else, that maybe they could unlock just one more little mysterious corner of the universe.

As Bill Nye says in his preface, "I hope you appreciate the inherent beauty of each image. But I further hope that each picture and caption whets your curiosity about the science behind the astronomical phenomena."

He needn't worry. This collection claws at the imagination, invoking visions of starships and space flight, of wormholes and black holes and tesseracts and timeslips, and yet remains elegantly, effortlessly real. These are composite images, true, compiled from raw data sent back by those telescopes and probes, but that does nothing to lessen their beauty.

A small bit of clear, easily understood text accompanies each image, explaining the context of what it is we are seeing, whether a nebula or our own sun. Read the rest

NASA's Space Poop Challenge

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NASA issued a public $30,000 bounty "for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours." From the competition brief:

Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. A crew member could find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens while in space.

The old standby solution consisted of diapers, in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.

What's needed is a system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands. The system has to operate in the conditions of space - where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth. This system will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over 6 days, or 144 hrs.

Space Poop Challenge (HeroX) Read the rest

Why Titan is the only colonizable world in the solar system beyond Earth

This Voyager 2 photograph of Titan, taken Aug. 23, 1981 from a range of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles), shows some detail in the cloud systems on this Saturnian moon. The southern hemisphere appears lighter in contrast, a well-defined band is seen near the equator, and a dark collar is evident at the north pole. All these bands are associated with cloud circulation in Titan's atmosphere. The extended haze, composed of submicron-size particles, is seen clearly around the satellite's limb. This image was composed from blue, green and violet frames.

Cold is easier to deal with than the raging heat of Venus. The Moon and Mars are bathed in dangerous radiation. This means Titan is humanity's best existential insurance policy. Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix, authors of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets, explain:

It’s cold on Titan, at -180°C (-291°F), but thanks to its thick atmosphere, residents wouldn’t need pressure suits—just warm clothing and respirators. Housing could be made of plastic produced from the unlimited resources harvested on the surface, and could consist of domes inflated by warm oxygen and nitrogen. The ease of construction would allow huge indoor spaces.

Titanians (as we call them) wouldn’t have to spend all their time inside. The recreational opportunities on Titan are unique. For example, you could fly. The weak gravity—similar to the Moon’s—combined with the thick atmosphere would allow individuals to aviate with wings on their backs. If the wings fall off, no worry, landing will be easy. Terminal velocity on Titan is a tenth that found on the Earth.

How will we get there? Currently, we can’t.

Oh well. Doom it is, then! Read the rest

“I made a spaceship for my son's one year birthday”

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Check out this incredible spacecraft made by IMGURian revmuun for their beautiful one-year-old baby boy. What a fantastic wondrous thing to build for your kiddo!

About the image below, revmuun says, “You can see him playing with the control panel. You can also see the hinges that help detach the control section from the body for easier transportation.”

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Did Mars have ice cauldrons which could support life?

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Researchers at UT Austin have analyzed a deep depression on Mars that differs from a typical crater. The Hellas depression may in fact be an ancient ice cauldron, where a glacier forms over an active volcano, creating a chemical-rich environment that could support life forms. Read the rest

How to see the extraordinary "supermoon" on Monday

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On Monday November 14, we'll have the opportunity to see the full moon closer to Earth than its been since 1948, and won't be again until 2034. It will be a spectacular sight. From NASA:

The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth....

The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).

If you’re not an early riser, no worries. “I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine.

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Here’s how astronauts vote from space

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NASA’s Tumblr breaks down the process:

For astronauts, the voting process starts a year before launch, when astronauts are able to select which elections (local/state/federal) that they want to participate in while in space. Then, six months before the election, astronauts are provided with a standard form: the “Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request–Federal Post Card Application.”

‘Space voting’ was first used the same year it was implemented in 1997. NASA astronaut David Wolf became the first American to vote in space while on the Russian Mir Space Station. Current space station resident astronaut Shane Kimbrough is the most recent astronaut to take advantage of the opportunity.

So remember: If astronauts can make time to vote, so can you!

[via http://nasa.tumblr.com] Read the rest

Chart: many asteroids are worth quintillions of dollars each

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The asteroid belt holds untold wealth for the prospectors who can reach and mine them. Wired UK just published an interesting chart of select asteroids valued between 1 and 27 quintillion dollars each. Read the rest

Float through the space station in this fisheye POV

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Crank it to 4K and go full-screen to feel as if you're floating through the International Space Station. It's cool to think about how quaint this technology will look someday, like a wooden sailing ship, but for now, it's still mind-blowingly cool. Read the rest

Schiaparelli lander crash site

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NASA released a color image of the Schiaparelli Mars landing site that illustrates the descent speed issue quite nicely.

"Composite of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements seen by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath."
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The day an amateur rocket climbed 23 miles in one minute

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Five years ago, Derek Deville launched an amateur rocket into the stratosphere in less than a minute. It still stands as a remarkable achievement, and the onboard camera gives a dizzying sense of the speed and height. Read the rest

Great moments in space history: farting on the moon

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YouTuber Barb Ackue (get it?) was kind enough to upload an important moment in US history: Commander John Young complaining about flatulence while Apollo 16 was on the lunar surface. After working through some technical issues, Young says: Read the rest

Hubble releases shimmering image of a youthful globular cluster

  Globular clusters offer some of the most spectacular sights in the night sky. These ornate spheres contain hundreds of thousands of stars, and reside in the outskirts of galaxies. The Milky Way contains over 150 such clusters — and the one shown in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, named NGC 362, is one of the more unusual ones. As stars make their way through life they fuse elements together in their cores, creating heavier and heavier elements — known in astronomy as metals — in the process. When these stars die, they flood their surroundings with the material they have formed during their lifetimes, enriching the interstellar medium with metals. Stars that form later therefore contain higher proportions of metals than their older relatives. By studying the different elements present within individual stars in NGC 362, astronomers discovered that the cluster boasts a surprisingly high metal content, indicating that it is younger than expected. Although most globular clusters are much older than the majority of stars in their host galaxy, NGC 362 bucks the trend, with an age lying between 10 and 11 billion years old. For reference, the age of the Milky Way is estimated to be above 13 billion years. This image, in which you can view NGC 362’s individual stars, was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

Recent revised estimates upping the number of galaxies in the universe seem even more mind-boggling when contemplating this image released from Hubble this week. It shows NGC 362, one of about 150 globular clusters on the outskirts of just one galaxy, our own Milky Way. Read the rest

Last call for the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition!

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Are you jonesing for a dose of optimism and possibility? In the mood to contemplate the cosmos? Want to experience a musical message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played? The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, a project I launched with Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, is a lavish vinyl box set containing the contents of the phonograph record launched into space in 1977 and now 13 billion miles from Earth.

Our Kickstarter ends at 8pm PDT tonight (Thursday). Once we fulfill the rewards from this campaign, we'll never produce this deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition again.

We are so thankful enthusiasm and excitement about our project and the incredible Voyager interstellar mission. The curiosity and support is infectious. We're deeply grateful that a project that has been on our minds for so long has resonated with so many people around the world. Ad astra!

For more on the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, please visit our Kickstarter page here.

And here's an excerpt from an interview with me about the project, from The Vinyl Factory:

Ultimately it was a utopian vision for Earth as much as an actual attempt to communicate with extra terrestrials… Wasn’t it?

Yeah I think the idea is that if there is a civilisation that is intelligent enough to actually intercept it, they’ll be able to follow the instructions on how to play it. And I think that’s true. In some ways though, it doesn’t even really matter if it’s ever played or not by an extra-terrestrial civilisation.

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Explore the galaxy in 3D with data from the Gaia satellite

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Gaia is an interactive 3D map of the galaxy, coded by Charley Hoey and sourced from the eponymous mapping satellite's data: click, drag and scroll/pinch to change the viewpoint. It took a long time to load even on my desktop PC, but the results speak overwhelmingly for themselves.

The Gaia satellite by the European Space Agency is currently orbiting 1.5 million kilometers beyond the moon, twirling through the heavens and dutifully marking down the positions of every point of light it sees. I've processed the program's first batch of data to determine the 3D position of about 2 million stars. Click and drag to orbit, or scroll/pinch to zoom in and out, zoom all the way in to see our sun, just one star among millions. WebVR enabled!

Hoey explains in "torrenting the galaxy" what it took to model two million stars in the browser. Here's an official ESA image made from the same dataset; as beautiful as it is, the enormity of the data it represents seems absent.

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Animation about solar sailing to the nearest star

In this wonderful animation, billionaire Russian physicist and investor Yuri Milner explains his effort to launch tiny probes, powered by 12 foot solar sails, on an interstellar mission to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, within two decades. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are on the board of Milner's group, called Breakthrough Initiatives. The project builds on decades of work by scientists Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce Murray who pioneered solar sail technology through the Planetary Society, the fantastic citizen-funded space advocacy and research organization they co-founded in 1980. Indeed, Friedman is an advisor to Milner's Starshot effort.

For more on solar sailing, check out the Planetary Society's LightSail project and their blog post earlier this year about Milner's far out project.

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