Alas, poor ISON. The comet that flew too close to the Sun on Thanksgiving Day appears to have suffered the fate of Icarus — if Icarus had been ripped apart by a solar flare. The video above, taken by space probes on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, provides a great view of the comet hurtling toward the Sun and then disintegrating. Although there's still some discussion over whether or not ISON still survives as a much smaller ball of rock, ice, and dust, NASA has officially declared the comet dead. Astrophysicist Karl Battams wrote a very nice eulogy. Read the rest
The China National Space Administration has launched Chang'e 3, a plutonium-powered lunar lander on-board a 185-foot-tall Long March 3B rocket. The lander is on a four-day trajectory for the lunar surface, and will brake and enter lunar orbit on December 6th. It is scheduled to land on December 14th, in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum). The rover masses 140kg, with nuclear heaters to keep systems alive during the two-week-long lunar nights, and will use radar to probe the lunascape as it roves during its mission. It is also outfitted with high-resolution panoramic cameras and telescopes. The Chinese space program's stated goal is to establish a space-station and autonomous landers that can return to Earth with samples.
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What happens when a solar storm collides with a comet? Back in 2007, a coronal mass ejection ripped the tail off of Comet Encke. (You can watch that happen in an awesome NASA gif
.) Tomorrow, Comet ISON is due to fly closer to the Sun than Encke, during a much more active time in the solar cycle. Scientists are anticipating an awesome collision
, like spectators at a demolition derby. Read the rest
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When asked what we are here for, Beat writer William S. Burroughs famously answered, "This is the space age, and we are here to go." We can't easily grab a seat to orbit but model rocketry is an excellent space age maker hobby that's stood the test of time. For a good time, call the LUNAR hotline! LUNAR is the Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry, the northern California hub for model rocketry enthusiasts. Every month, LUNAR hosts a legal "sport launch" at NASA's Ames Research Center on the Moffett Federal Airfield in Silicon Valley. Everyone is invited to bring their model rockets, engines, and get ready for lift-off! It's a wonderful, supportive scene for new and old rocket buffs and families. One recent weekend, our sponsor Toyota loaned us a Toyota RAV4 EV and we decided the LUNAR launch was the perfect destination for a new electric car. And we're counting down...
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Screengrab from Chris Hadfield music video for his cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
On PBS NewsHour
, science correspondent Miles O'Brien
interviews Chris Hadfield
, who has brought new popular interest to space exploration with his innovative use of web video, tweets, Facebooked photos, and a creative use of the internet, from space. Miles talks to the retired Canadian astronaut, author of "An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth
," about the importance of space exploration.
You can listen to the interviews or read a transcript here; videos are below.
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The crazy part about NASA's Asteroid Initiative isn't so much the part where we land human beings on an asteroid
. That's cool and all, sure. But the bit that precedes it is actually a little bit more mindblowing. To make that landing work, we'll first have to send out robotic spacecraft to essentially capture an asteroid and tow it into a stable orbit around the Moon. Yeah. Seriously
. Welcome to living in the future, dudes. Read the rest
We've talked here before about the Office of Planetary Protection
and efforts to make sure that we Earthlings don't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with our bacteria, viruses, and other assorted detritus. Now, some scientists are arguing that we've done this job too well
, effectively barring ourselves from exploring the parts of Mars that are most likely to be hospitable to life precisely because they could also be hospitable to tagalong life from Earth. Read the rest
Venus is not exactly a hospitable-sounding place. The planet's surface can reach temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmospheric pressure is close to the psi found in a hydraulic car crusher
. None of the landers that touched down there lasted more than an hour. Generally, it's a not a place that sounds very friendly to humans. But that's all on the surface. Just 30 miles up, conditions on Venus become incredibly Earth-like. In fact, the upper atmosphere of Venus is home to the most Earth-like conditions in our entire solar system. Read the rest
San Francisco's public television station KQED produced a half-hour documentary on the private efforts to commercialize space. The program focuses on Silicon Valley-based concerns like reusable rocket maker Masten Space Systems (image of their Xaero spacecraft above) and microsatellite developer Skybox Imaging. Also appearing is BB pal Steve Jurvetson, happy mutant venture capitalist and a board member at space transport company SpaceX. In fact, I ran into Steve at a model rocketry meet on Saturday -- the man really digs rockets! You can watch the KQED documentary, "Silicon Valley Goes To Space
," in full below. Read the rest
NASA just released this breathtaking photo of Saturn, seven of its moons, and Earth in the background. Actually a mosaic of 141 wide-angle photos, this stunning view was captured by the Cassini spacecraft while inside Saturn's shadow. The image covers 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers). According to a NASA report, "This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn's orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance." Click through to NASA to see the much higher-res image including an annotated version: The Day the Earth Smiled (NASA) Read the rest
The spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore when he stepped onto the moon was constructed by a bra manufacturer in Dover, Delaware. Smithsonian magazine tells the history of the Apollo suit:
For the suit’s creator, the International Latex Corporation in Dover, Delaware, the toughest challenge was to contain the pressure necessary to support life (about 3.75 pounds per square inch of pure oxygen), while maintaining enough flexibility to afford freedom of motion. A division of the company that manufactured Playtex bras and girdles, ILC had engineers who understood a thing or two about rubber garments. They invented a bellowslike joint called a convolute out of neoprene reinforced with nylon tricot that allowed an astronaut to bend at the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and ankles with relatively little effort. Steel aircraft cables were used throughout the suit to absorb tension forces and help maintain its shape under pressure.
"Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit Was Made by a Bra Manufacturer" Read the rest
Sometimes, you forget about things that happened during your own lifetime. For instance, I'd completely forgotten that, back in 1997, cosmonauts accidentally ran an unmanned spacecraft full of garbage into the side of the space station Mir
, temporarily knocking out power and sending the space station into an uncontrolled spin. NASA has the full story, an oral history from an astronaut who was on board Mir at the time, and some nifty animations showing what happened. Read the rest
From the US Air Force's Airman magazine:
The Maui Space Surveillance Complex is located on Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the island of Maui in Hawaii. It’s one of three sites Air Force Space Command operates that makes up the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep-Space Surveillance network, which tracks man-made objects orbiting the Earth.
" Read the rest
Despite all the attention lavished on Moon dust, we still don't know what effect the stuff has on human lungs ... which is kind of a big deal, considering the fact that the dust has busted through every vacuum seal its ever faced. And eaten through layers of moon boots. Basically, you can imagine Moon dust as those tiny shards that get left on the floor when you break a glass and inevitably end up embedded in your foot four days later. At The New Yorker
, Kate Green writes about efforts to better understand the effects of Moon dust on various materials
and how engineers are trying to find new ways to control it before humans return to the lunar surface. Read the rest
I got to see a bunch of the lovely, retro-futuristic themed housewares and jewelry from Musuem of Robots at a show last week, and they're beautiful, well-crafted, and really up my street. Especially lovely are the rocketship and planet pendants (above), made with naturally swirled agates and adorable pewter rocketships. They also do rayguns, and, of course, robots
Museum of Robots
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Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Dennis Overbye, in the New York Times: "Astronomers reported that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy, based on a new analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft." Read the rest
The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifts off at 0908 GMT (4:08 a.m. EST; 2:38 p.m. local time) from India's Satish Dhawan Space Center. Photo: ISRO
Today, India makes space history: its low-cost Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle blasted off with the nation's first mission to Mars. More at Spaceflight Now
. Read the rest