Man killed by meteorite, first case in modern history (UPDATE: maybe not!)

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UPDATE: NASA says probably not. (NYT)

On Saturday, a falling meteorite is thought to have killed V. Kamaraj, a bus driver at Bharathidasan Engineering College in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

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Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell, 6th man on the moon, dies at age 85

Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14 lunar module pilot stands by the deployed U.S. flag on the lunar surface during the early moments of the mission's first spacewalk. Photo: NASA

NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died. He was 85 years old.

Mitchell was the sixth human to walk on the moon. He died Thursday night after a short illness. It was exactly one day before the 45th anniversary of the day he landed in the Moon's hilly Fra Mauro region, with crewmate Alan Shepard.

Mitchell was into the paranormal, and the possibility that ESP (psychic communication) could help humans stay connected out in space.

From Bill Harwood at CBS News:

Famous for attempting an experiment in extra-sensory perception on his way back from the moon, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 "to support consciousness research and promote awareness of evolving human consciousness," the family said in a statement released by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man On The Moon -- The Voyages Of The Apollo Astronauts," said in a recent interview with CBS News that Mitchell was "super bright" and "an intellectual."

"Just a real lover of ideas," Chaikin said. "It shows in his post-NASA career because he pursued this question of consciousness and the nature of consciousness. On his flight, he had kind of a mountain-top experience where on the flight home, looking at the Earth, he felt that he was experiencing the universe as an intelligent entity, almost an organism. And that really changed him."

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell in front of a graphic of the mission patch. [NASA]

Here are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's remarks on his death:

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Animated interview with Sally Ride, the first American woman in space

"I wish that there had been another woman on my flight. I think it would have been a lot easier." --Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, interviewed by Gloria Steinem in 1983. (Blank on Blank)

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Watch an astronaut play liquid ping pong in space

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly demonstrates ping pong with a sphere of water on the International Space Station. From NASA:

The paddles are polycarbonate laser etched so that the surfaces are actually arrays of 300 micrometer posts (0.3mm). The surfaces were then spray coated with a Teflon coat. The combined effects of surface roughness and non-wettability produce a super-hydrophobic surface capable of preventing water adhesion in dynamic processes. The larger the drop, the less force it takes to break it up. The smaller the drop, the harder you can hit it. Scott is demonstrating about a 4 mL drop (over 100 times larger than a rain drop).

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Space-themed plates and asteroid glasses

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Seletti's "Cosmic Diner" kitchenware is a set of dishes, bowls and plates themed after our solar system's planets, sun and moons, with an accompanying set of asteroid-themed whiskey glasses. Read the rest

Astronomers unofficially designate a David Bowie "constellation"

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Studio Brussels asked astronomers at Belgium's MIRA Public Observatory to select stars that would make a fitting asterism in memory of David Bowie. (Of course, only the International Astronomical Union can officially name stars and other astronomical objects, and it's almost always with a number.)

In any case, this effort was tied to the "Stardust for Bowie" annotation project for Google Sky. There is also an unrelated Change.org petition to "Rename planet Mars after David Bowie."

(via The Guardian) Read the rest

SpaceX releases new video of Falcon 9 launch and landing

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SpaceX today published some wonderful new footage of its recent successful Falcon 9 launch and landing.

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Strange space balls fell in Vietnam

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Three strange metal spheres fell from the sky in Vietnam's Tuyen Quang province. They range in size and weight, with the smallest at 250 grams and the largest at 45 kilograms. According to the Ministry of Defense, they are likely compressed air tanks from an aircraft or rocket. That said, Nguyen Khoa Son of the National Research Program on Space Science and Technology suggests that they could be debris from a failed satellite launch. Apparently the balls were made in Russia.

(BBC News)

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Which is the most boring exoplanet?

Bland exoplanet OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb and the shitty little red dwarf it orbits. Illo: Beschizza

Every other week, it seems, an exciting new discovery crops up in a distant star system. The latest is Wolf 1061c, the closest Earth-like world yet found, barely a probe's throw away at 14 light years. But this got me thinking: which is the least interesting exoplanet yet discovered?

To my inexpert eye, OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb looks like a terrifically boring world. Though it was scientifically interesting early in the exoplanetary race due to its tiny size and vast distance from Planet Earth, this merely makes it the Rand Paul of planets.

It's at least 18,000 light years away, so we're not getting there until we can reach billions of other, more interesting worlds. And when someone does get there, they'll find what appears to be rocky blob well out of its star's habitable zone.

It's covered in abundant elements such as ammonia and nitrogen, all frozen solid because it's so cold. Its star is believed to be a red dwarf, which is to say, very boring in its own right.

"I wish I'd had a chance to visit OGLE 2005 BLG-390Lb," no-one will ever say.

But I could, of course, be completely wrong. I'm not an astronomer, after all. Tell us in the comments which exoplanet you are most bored by!

Previously: Extremely mundane places in Minecraft. Read the rest

You can now watch NASA rocket launches in 4K high-def video online

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You can now view NASA rocket launch videos in 4K high-definition glory, online.

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Look at Saturn's magnificent moon Titan!

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NASA just released this beautiful composite infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan. The Cassini spacecraft captured the image last month during its flyby about 6,200 miles above the moon's surface. From NASA:

The view looks toward terrain that is mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan. The scene features the parallel, dark, dune-filled regions named Fensal (to the north) and Aztlan (to the south), which form the shape of a sideways letter "H."

Several places on the image show the surface at higher resolution than elsewhere. These areas, called subframes, show more detail because they were acquired near closest approach. They have finer resolution, but cover smaller areas than data obtained when Cassini was farther away from Titan.

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Ridley Scott's revenge?

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Did Ridley Scott plan the most brutally delicious revenge against JPL or am I just making this stuff up? Read the rest

Watch all the exoplanets orbit their stars simultaneously

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The Kepler telescope has found 685 systems with 1705 exoplanets, and you can watch them whirr around together in this mesmerizing animation by astrocubs.

The data is from the NASA Exoplanet Archive. I made the visualization in Python: source code available here.

The fact that the worlds and systems we've observed are so different from our own is a limitation of our observations, not of the universe.

The orbits are shown to scale, but the planets are much larger than the orbits would suggest. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to see them. The planets are not to scale with one another, either. Also, the orbits wouldn't be perfectly circular, though I guess the animator might have made the simulation adhere to the laws of planetary motion an all the observed worlds have roughly-circular orbits. Of course the solar systems aren't this close tog—look, sshhhh, just watch it, it's pretty. Read the rest

These procedurally generated space bowls are killer

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Mirror Lake will make a procedurally generated bowl for you. Sometimes the bowl is empty, which sounds like a parable, but mostly it is just a bowl. Sometimes it is in space.

Click again, and you'll be greeted with another bowl. Other features of its landscape may include: mountains, trees, stones, ponds, birds, comets, planets, stars.

Mirror Lake was created by Katie Rose Pipkin for the recent Procedural Generation Jam, which encouraged people to make generative games, tools and art—to "make something that makes something." In this case, hauntingly pretty monochromatic space bowls.

Pipkin previously made a bot that creates tweets peppered with tiny star fields, and co-created another bot that draws and names procedurally generated moths.

If you want to see Mirror Lake in all its odd glory, trying expanding it to full screen; make sure the sound is up so you can hear the ambient hum. Even the bugs are nice to look at:

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Our Generation Ships Will Sink

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As noted in Cory's review, Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora makes an undeniable case for ecological stewardship through a rigorous, gripping technological speculation about climate science, biology, space propulsion and sociodynamic factors. In this exclusive feature essay, Robinson explains the technology behind the best science fiction novel of 2015.

Watch 'xkcd' explain space travel using the simplest words possible

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"Rocket" is not one of the 1,000 most common words in the English language, so it's called an "up goer" in the excellent xkcd video that explains space travel in simple terms. It's adapted from xkcd creator Randall Munroe's book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words." Read the rest

Tiny planet spotted, 3x as distant as Pluto

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Astronomers have spied a cold world three times as distant from the Sun as Pluto. Read the rest

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