Tiny satellite that spews out tinier sensors onto moon's surface

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In the late 2020s, NASA plans to send a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa to determine if there's oceanic life beneath its crust. Before then, Draper Laboratory hopes that its novel sensor system of CubeSats, satellites smaller than a shoebox, and postage-stamp size sensors, called ChipSats, could be the basis of a complementary $10 million mission to inform the big 2020 effort, expected to cost $2 billion. Draper's idea is that CubeSats could be delivered to Europa's orbit to identify areas on the moon with the thinnest ice. As data comes in about what's below, the CubeSats would then dump hundreds of the tiny ChipSats onto the moon's surface. Those ChipSats would then identify the best location for the later NASA probe to penetrate the surface. (Insert requisite "2010: Odyssey Two" reference here.) From Draper Laboratory, developers of the system:

Initial indications suggest that (ChipSats') small size and lack of moving parts may make them highly capable of surviving impact on a planetary surface without any dedicated protection system, (Draper researcher Brett) Streetman said. The low cost of ChipSats would enable scientists to use a large batch, reducing the consequences of losing some upon impact, he said.

Additionally, this capability could provide a quick-response solution for researchers who study events on Earth that are difficult to predict, and thus difficult to reach quickly with personnel and in-situ sensors, such as volcanic eruptions and algae blooms, said John West, who leads advanced concepts and technology development in Draper’s space systems group.

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Europe and Russia just launched a Mars space mission to sniff out signs of life

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A European-Russian spacecraft headed out from our humble little planet to space today, in search for life on Mars.

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Poster has every exploratory endeavor into space from 1959-2015

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This beautiful poster from Pop Chart Lab "traces the trajectories of every orbiter, lander, rover, flyby, and impactor to ever slip the surly bonds of Earth’s orbit and successfully complete its mission"

Probe the solar system from Mercury to Pluto with this stellar schematic of space exploration! From the Luna 2 in 1959 to the DSCOVR in 2015, this color-coded chart traces the trajectories of every orbiter, lander, rover, flyby, and impactor to ever slip the surly bonds of Earth’s orbit and successfully complete its mission—a truly astronomical array of over 100 exploratory instruments in all. Featuring hand-illustrated renderings of each spacecraft juxtaposed against the serried giants of our solar system, this galactic survey is a testament to man’s forays into the grand cosmic ballet.

Each poster comes packaged in a Pop Chart Lab Test Tube. See the menu to the right for finishing options, and please note that framed prints require an additional 7-10 business days of processing time.

Using 100 lb. archival stock certified by The Forest Stewardship Council, this poster is pressed in Long Island City with vegetable-based inks.

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly safely returns to Earth after year-long mission in space

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko enjoy the cold fresh air back on Earth after their historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station.
Image: NASA TV

NASA reports that astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko have returned to Earth Tuesday night, after a historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. The space travelers touched down in Kazakhstan at 11:26 p.m. EST (10:26 a.m. March 2 Kazakhstan time).

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China will displace 9,000 villagers to build $184 million telescope for alien life search

2015 photo of assembly site of  "FAST" in Guizhou Province, China. (Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

Over 9,000 Chinese villagers must leave their homes to make way for aliens “or for the possible echoes of them,” reports Ed Wong in the New York Times.

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Gorgeous retrofuturistic space travel posters from NASA JPL

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The Exoplanet Exploration Progam at NASA/JPL has commissioned a set of absolutely gorgeous posters for significant planets, moons, exoplanets, and nearby stars, each accompanied by text explaining their significance and what humans might do if we reach them. Read the rest

Einstein was right about ripples in spacetime!

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Gravitational waves are real, and scientists have detected them. In the video above, PBS Space Time explains the discovery by researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). From the New York Times:

A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago (Listen to it here.). And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.

More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.

Below, NASA's animated simulation of the black holes merging and releasing the gravitational radiation (background here):

above image credits: R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL Read the rest

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."

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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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