Kim Stanley Robinson says Elon Musk's Mars plan is a "1920s science-fiction cliché"

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Kim Stanley Robinson, whose seminal Mars trilogy (coming soon to TV?) changed the way we talk about our neighboring planet, says that Musk's Mars colonization plan "is sort of the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his back yard." Read the rest

More than 2 trillion galaxies in the universe, at least 10 times as many as we thought

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In the 1990s, Hubble surprised astronomers by revealing just how packed the universe is with galaxies: they estimated some 200 billion of them based on its observations. But now we know these estimates were wrong. There are at least 2 trillion.

Conselice and his team reached this conclusion using deep-space images from Hubble and the already published data from other teams. They painstakingly converted the images into 3-D, in order to make accurate measurements of the number of galaxies at different epochs in the universe's history. In addition, they used new mathematical models, which allowed them to infer the existence of galaxies that the current generation of telescopes cannot observe. This led to the surprising conclusion that in order for the numbers of galaxies we now see and their masses to add up, there must be a further 90 percent of galaxies in the observable universe that are too faint and too far away to be seen with present-day telescopes. These myriad small faint galaxies from the early universe merged over time into the larger galaxies we can now observe.

"It boggles the mind that over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied. Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we discover these galaxies with future generations of telescopes? In the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study these ultra-faint galaxies, said Conselice.

That's good for about 700 billion trillion stars, and heaven knows how many planets. (Previously) Read the rest

President Obama's plan to take us to Mars

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In a CNN op-ed, President Obama outlines his plan for the United States to partner with private companies to get humans to Mars (and back!) by the 2030s.

I still have the same sense of wonder about our space program that I did as a child. It represents an essential part of our character -- curiosity and exploration, innovation and ingenuity, pushing the boundaries of what's possible and doing it before anybody else. The space race we won not only contributed immeasurably important technological and medical advances, but it also inspired a new generation of scientists and engineers with the right stuff to keep America on the cutting edge...

This week, we'll convene some of America's leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students in Pittsburgh to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers. Just five years ago, US companies were shut out of the global commercial launch market. Today, thanks to groundwork laid by the men and women of NASA, they own more than a third of it. More than 1,000 companies across nearly all 50 states are working on private space initiatives.

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way.

"Barack Obama: America will take the giant leap to Mars"

(above: NASA image of Mars from the Viking Lander, 1977, via Wikipedia) Read the rest

Rosetta space probe sends last photo before striking comet to complete its mission

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Here's the last image from Europe's space probe Rosetta, taken 50m from the surface of 67P. Read the rest

George Pendle on the death of space art

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The always-engaging George Pendle (Strange Angel, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore) has a fascinating piece on Atlas Obscura on the history of space art and NASA's (and the government's at large) current awkward relationship with the art world.

Yet when the NASA scientists asked the attendant artists to refrain from posting pictures of the meeting on social media, it seemed to sum up both a generational and a temperamental mismatch. (In an email, a NASA spokesperson said that "participating artists are free to discuss their attendance.")

From a NASA perspective, the secrecy was a budgetary imperative. In 2003, the renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson was appointed NASA’s first “artist-in-residence” with the remit of creating art about the agency’s exploration of space. Republican congressmen quickly seized on the move as a sign of wanton profligacy. “Mr. Chairman,” sputtered Representative Chris Chocola of Indiana on the floor of Congress, “nowhere in NASA's mission does it say anything about advancing fine arts or hiring a performance artist.” There has been no artist-in-residence since and the reverberations were no doubt part of the reason why NASA’s workshop at Grace Farms seemed tentative and vague.

In the not-so-distant past, though, space and art intermingled happily. Artists were crucial to NASA’s development, at times outpacing the science of space travel itself. What happened?

The above illustration is NASA concept art of a moon landing, from 1959. Read the rest

Most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way shows over one billion stars

A map created by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope that shows a billion stars in the Milky Way.  (ESA)

The largest all-sky survey of celestial objects ever made by humans was released this month, using data from The European Space Agency (ESA)'s Gaia satellite.

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Understanding Musk's plan for colonizing Mars

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Over at National Geographic, Nadia Drake's feature on Elon Musk's plan for millions of people to live on Mars is the best explanation (and contextualization) of this far out vision that I've read. From Nat Geo:

The rocket would deliver the crew capsule to orbit around Earth, then the booster would steer itself toward a soft landing back at the launch pad, a feat that SpaceX rocket boosters have been doing for almost a year now. Next, the booster would pick up a fuel tanker and carry that into orbit, where it would fuel the spaceship for its journey to Mars.

Once en route, that spaceship would deploy solar panels to harvest energy from the sun and conserve valuable propellant for what promises to be an exciting landing on the Red Planet.

As Musk envisions it, fleets of these crew-carrying capsules will remain in Earth orbit until a favorable planetary alignment brings the two planets close together—something that happens every 26 months. “We’d ultimately have upward of a thousand or more spaceships waiting in orbit. And so the Mars colonial fleet would depart en masse,” Musk says.

The key to his plan is reusing the various spaceships as much as possible. “I just don’t think there’s any way to have a self-sustaining Mars base without reusability. I think this is really fundamental,” Musk says. “If wooden sailing ships in the old days were not reusable, I don’t think the United States would exist.”

"Elon Musk: A Million Humans Could Live on Mars By the 2060s" by Nadia Drake (National Geographic, thanks Tom Andres for the video tip!)

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

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Astronomers working with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope have captured images of what might be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. “This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes,” reports NASA. “ The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.”

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Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition: only available through October 20 on Kickstarter

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I’ve launched a very special Kickstarter with two friends, Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad. A year in the making (and many more years on our minds), the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition is the first vinyl release of the stunning golden phonograph record launched by NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft, one of which is now traveling through interstellar space. The deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition box set will only be available through October 20 on Kickstarter.

The original Golden Record was a gift from humanity, an introduction to our civilization for any extraterrestrials who might encounter the spacecraft, perhaps billions of years in the future. But it was also a gift to humanity.

The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth's greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet -- birds, a train, a baby's cry, a kiss -- are collaged into a lovely sound poem. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are. Etched on the record’s gold-plated aluminum jacket is a diagram explaining where it came from, and how to play it.

Astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan chaired the visionary committee that created the original Voyager Golden Record forty years ago. Astronomer and SETI pioneer Frank Drake was the technical director, writer Ann Druyan was creative director, science writer Timothy Ferris produced the record, artist Jon Lomberg designed it, and artist Linda Salzman Sagan organized the greetings. Read the rest

Grace Potter rocks out with NASA in new video on the women of America's space program

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Share this inspiring video with every kid or teen you know who dreams of space. John Streeter of NASA Television has sent us some wonderful NASA TV videos over the years. I love this new one with Vermont-born rock and roll star Grace Potter, about some of the amazing women in the history of the American space program. I hope it inspires a little girl out there to become an astronaut.

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When life hands you pizza boxes, build a rocket ship

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Well, that's one way to re-use pizza boxes.

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Pesco speaking at big free conference about space in San Francisco next week

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BB pal Ariel "Spacehack" Waldman has curated a stellar program for the big DENT: SPACE conference next week (9/21-9/22) in San Francisco! I'm honored to be on the schedule with such amazing people as SETI Institute's Seth Shostak, science writer Mary Roach, The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla, Ars Technica's Annalee Newitz, UC Berkeley planet hunter Alex Filippenko, and so many more fascinating folks! I'll be joining Ariel on stage Thursday at 2:50pm to talk about space history and the intersection of science and art to instill a sense of wonder about the universe, and a far out new project that I'll announce soon. See below on how to get a free ticket! Ariel writes:

On September 21-22, 2016, Dent:Space takes place at the Innovation Hangar at the Palace of Fine Arts (formerly the Exploratorium museum) with two stages of fascinating speakers spanning the technological, artistic, commercial, scientific, educational, and DIY aspects of space exploration. We’re also putting together an exhibit hall for the conference — kind of a World’s Fair-like set of interactive demos that illustrate the future of space exploration and its many possibilities. We were able to give away 3,000 free tickets to the talks and exhibits, but we’ve run out of room for that. In the interest of keeping it all accessible for as many as possible, tickets are still only $49. But, as a (Boing Boing reader), you can still grab a free ticket here

Dent:Space is a celebration of humans breaking the status quo of who can be involved and what can be achieved in space exploration.

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When "computers" were young, brilliant black women mathematicians

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Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures recovers the lost history of the young African American women who did the heavy computational work of the Apollo missions, given the job title of "computer" -- her compelling book has been made into a new motion picture. Read the rest

Celebrating Michael Collins, 'forgotten astronaut' of Apollo 11

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Any true NASA nerd knows that Michael Collins was the third astronaut who joined Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. But even for those who are already familiar with Collins, this video is still a lovely, poignant tribute to an unsung hero of the space race. Read the rest

Adam Savage writes about space nerd sculptor Tom Sachs

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In Wired, our pal Adam Savage geeks out with Tom Sachs, a sculptor who makes incredibly intricate space-themed installations:

(Sachs had) mounted two Space Program exhibitions—the moon (at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills) in 2007 and then Mars (at the Park Avenue Armory in New York) in 2012. There were the blue Tiffany Glock and orange Hermès hand grenade, and also a Chanel chain saw and a Prada toilet. And a foam-core R2-D2, which I’d collected pictures of as inspiration for building my own DIY Artoo, a decade before I knew who Sachs was.

We had a lot in common. We’re both obsessive organizers. We both make replicas. And when we’re in the shop and can’t think of what to work on, we build infrastructure—stands, shelves, benches. Sachs told me he’d cribbed construction ideas from MythBusters Now he uses my workshop when he’s on the West Coast, and I use his when I’m back east. Our wives describe our relationship status as “dating.”

When I look at Sachs’ workshop, what’s more familiar to me than the tools are the rituals, the signs of how Sachs turns prosaic objects and materials into art.

"Ground Control to Major Tom" by Adam Savage (Wired)

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Views Spectacular Layered Rock Formations of “Murray Buttes”

This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp.

Reports NASA today, “The layered geologic past of Mars is revealed in stunning detail in new color images returned by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is currently exploring the 'Murray Buttes' region of lower Mount Sharp. The new images arguably rival photos taken in U.S. National Parks.”

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Lost space probe finally found on comet

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In 2014, the Philae space probe left the Rosetta spacecraft and descended to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Unfortunately, Philae missed its landing due to an anchor mishap, bounced around, and then vanished. On Sunday, just a few weeks before Rosetta's expected crash into the comet and the end of the mission, Cecilia Tubiana of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research was scouring new images of the comet transmitted from Rosetta and noticed the dishwasher-sized probe in a crack. From Nadia Drake's post at National Geographic:

“I immediately recognized Philae, there was no doubt about it,” says Tubiana, who’s at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. “I could not believe that we had finally — one month before the end of the Rosetta mission — successfully imaged it! I was so happy!”

Now, with Philae found, scientists can finally rest. The lander won’t be doing any more science, but knowing where it came to rest on 67P will help the team interpret the data Philae could collect during those few short days when it was operational in November 2014. And anyway, soon enough, its comet will carry it—and Rosetta—away from the sun and into a long, dark night.

"Long-Lost Comet Lander Finally Found" (Nat Geo) Read the rest

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