Watch: SpaceX prototype Starship rocket just exploded in a big fireball

SpaceX's Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle just exploded in a huge fireball during a static fire test in Boca Chica, Texas. While the Starship spacecraft is still early in development, the explosion doesn't feel great leading up to the SpaceX-NASA historic launch now scheduled for tomorrow. Scrubbed on Wednesday due to weather, it'll be the first time humans will launch to space from the United States since 2011 and the first time a private company will take humans offworld.

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Astronaut shows what happens when you drop a hammer and feather at the same time on the moon

Astronaut David Scott re-created, in 1971 during the Apollo 15 mission, Galileo's "falling bodies" experiment by dropping a hammer and feather on the moon at the same time. Simply, both fell at the same rate because there was no air resistance.

screengrab via Wonders of Physics/YouTube

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NASA astronaut Bob Behnken launched his own rocket on the eve of his historic trip to space that was scrubbed yesterday

On Tuesday evening, the night before NASA astronaut Bob Behnken was set to launch into orbit about a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, he launched his own rocket from Florida's Atlantic Coast. Read the rest

SCRUBBED: How to watch the historic SpaceX/NASA launch today!

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to weather just a few minutes before launch. See you Saturday for another try!

Today, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to shuttle two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. This will be the first time humans will launch to space from the United States since 2011 and the first time a private company will take humans offworld. Intrepid science journalist Nadia Drake is at the launchpad reporting on the mission for National Geographic and ABC News. Tune in above for Nadia's live reporting. Liftoff is set for 4:33pm ET, weather and technology permitting. From Nadia's coverage at National Geographic:

The Demo-2 mission is slated to lift off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A—the same pad in Florida that hosted Apollo 11 and STS-135, the last flight of a space shuttle. However, next week's mission represents a new way of getting humans to orbit, in which agencies including NASA purchase rides to space from private companies. For astronauts [Doug] Hurley, 53, and [Bob] Behnken, 49, the Demo-2 flight also presents a rare opportunity: to be the first people to fly in a new type of spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley were specially selected for NASA’s commercial crew program back in 2015. Both men are former military test pilots—Hurley in the Marines and Behnken in the Air Force. Both are married to fellow astronauts, and the two have been colleagues since joining NASA in 2000 as part of Astronaut Group 18.

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Virgin Orbit fails on first rocket launch attempt, 'next big test ASAP' for Richard Branson’s spaceflight firm

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit failed on its first rocket launch attempt, which took place out of the Mojave Spaceport in Southern California. Read the rest

How to wash your hands... in space

Astronaut Chris Hadfield explains how astronauts wash their hands in the microgravity of space. Formerly the commander of the International Space Station, Hadfield spent nearly six months offworld.

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Help Wanted: participants for a NASA social isolation experiment inside a Russian lab

NASA is looking to pay US citizens to spend eight months in social isolation inside a Russian laboratory. The goal is to simulate the longterm social distancing that astronauts will endure on future missions to Mars. The location is "a unique multi-compartment facility used as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions" located in the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. From NASA's announcement of the opportunity:
NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor’s degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well.

Participants will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars. A small international crew will live together in isolation for eight months conducting scientific research, using virtual reality and performing robotic operations among a number of other tasks during the lunar mission. The research will be conducted to study the effects of isolation and confinement as participants work to successfully complete their simulated space mission. Results from ground-based missions like this help NASA prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration and provide important scientific data to solve some of these problems and to develop countermeasures.

Compensation is available for participating in the mission. There are different levels of compensation depending upon whether or not you are associated with NASA or if you are a NASA employee or contractor.

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This animated video of light pulses from Earth make it clear how far away Mars is

*UPDATED* Earth to the Moon, then Mars, at the speed of light (equidistant pulses version) [OC] from r/dataisbeautiful

From the Data is Beautiful subreddit, a visualization of how long it takes for light to travel from Earth to the Moon, and then from Earth to Mars. Read the rest

Today (Thursday): Sasha Sagan and Ann Druyan in conversation with David Pescovitz

Today, Thursday (5/14), I'm honored to be moderating a free online conversation with two brilliant women whose work is a light in the darkness during these uncertain times. My friend Ann Druyan is the executive producer, writer, and director of Cosmos, the iconic TV show she co-created with her late husband and collaborator, astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan. From her work as creative director of the Voyager Golden Record to her numerous books, most recently Cosmos: Possible Worlds, Ann has spent her life sparking curiosity and wonder about the universe and our place in it.

Ann and Carl's daughter, Sasha Sagan, is the author of the new book For Small Creatures Such As We, a lovely, inspiring memoir exploring the intersection of science and spirituality in a secular home. The title is from a quote found in the pages of Contact, a novel written by Ann and Carl: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." Like her parents, Sasha has the passion, wisdom, and talent to simultaneously instill awe, hope, and skepticism through her creative work.

The conversation, hosted by the Jewish arts and culture organization Reboot, takes place at 2:30pm PT / 5:30pm PT. Pre-register on Zoom and Facebook Live. From the event description:

The Interplay of Science and Ritual in a Time of Flux

Over the eons, our relationship to science and ritual has been inextricably linked to our understanding of our place in the universe. Join Emmy Award-winning writer, director, producer Ann Druyan and her daughter, author Sasha Sagan, in conversation with Boing Boing co-founder David Pescovitz to talk about emerging philosophies that can provide hope as we struggle to adjust to our new normal on Earth.

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Last night's massive boom over Puget Sound was likely exploding meteor

A massive boom heard Wednesday night over Puget Sound on the northwestern coast of Washington was most likely an exploding meteor. Or that's what They want us to believe anyway. The American Meteor Society registered a dozen reports. Video above. Keep your eyes on the upper left of the frame.

"The more I read the more inclined I am to believe this was a fireball (which is a meteor that is larger and brighter than normal)," the American Meteor Society's Bob Lunsford said. "I'm certain now that this was a meteoric event."

From KOMONews:

Most meteors' explosions are heard about a minute or two after they explode due to the time it takes the sound to reach the Earth's surface, Lunsford said. Sound travels at 767 mph in standard atmosphere conditions, indicating this fireball exploded some 35 miles away.

"If this was larger than normal then the sound could have originated from a higher altitude. So a delay of 3 minutes is entirely possible," Lunsford said. "Meteors become visible at a height of around 50 miles so your estimate is well within that range."

Lunsford said because there was a boom, it’s very likely there are small, rock-sized pieces of the meteor somewhere on the ground. When a meteor causes a boom, it’s “pretty far down” in the atmosphere.

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Jupiter looks pretty angry in "lucky" infrared shot

It took hundreds of exposures and a complex method of removing occlusions, but this "lucky" shot is the result: a depiction of the hot regions lurking under Jupiter's uppermost clouds.

The picture was captured in infared by the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, and is one of the sharpest observations of the planet ever made from the ground. To achieve the resolution, scientists used a technique called "lucky imaging" which scrubs out the blurring effect of looking through Earth's turbulent atmosphere. This method involves acquiring multiple exposures of the target and only keeping those segments of an image where that turbulence is at a minimum.

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Trump administration drafts legal pact for mining the moon

They want to drill the Moon. Read the rest

NASA picks Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, & Dynetics to build lunar landing systems for manned moon mission

On Thursday, NASA announced that it has selected commercial space technology firms firms SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to build lunar landing systems that can carry astronauts to the moon by 2024. Read the rest

Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott has advice for us about social distancing

Nicole Stott is a talented artist and retired astronaut who spent more than 100 days living in space on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Stott is one of several astronauts who in recent days has been asked to share their advice on isolation and social distancing.

"Nothing beats that first hug after landing," Stott says.

From the New York Times:

[In the video above, Stott] reflects on the three months she spent on the International Space Station, far from her husband and 7-year-old son. Living on the space station, being alone on a spacewalk, watching lightning storms crisscross the planet — all these experiences taught her that we’re all inherently connected, even when we’re physically far away.

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Little black hole orbits large black hole

NASA published this animation showing a little black hole (150m solar masses) whirling around a large black hole (18bn solar masses), punching through its accretion disc like an energetic puppy doing donuts through a bead curtain.

Two massive black holes are locked in a dance at the center of the OJ 287 galaxy. The larger black hole is surrounded by disk of gas; it is also orbited by a smaller black hole that collides with the disk, producing a flare brighter than 1 trillion stars. But because the system's complex physics affects the smaller black hole's orbit, the flares occur irregularly. Scientists used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect one of these bright flashes on July 31, 2019, confirming that they can now anticipate the timing of these flares to within four hours using a detailed model of the system.

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Enormous and “potentially hazardous" asteroid will fly by Earth tomorrow

Tomorrow, an asteroid that's at least a mile wide will pass by Earth. While NASA considers the object, named 1998 Or2, to be "potentially hazardous," it won't hit us. This time. It won't get closer than around four million miles away. Above is a time lapse of the asteroid captured through a telescope by amateur astronomer Ingvars Tomsons in Riga, Latvia. As the asteroid and Earth continue to orbit our sun, it'll continue to be a risk. And this rock is not the only one that could someday sock it to us. At National Geographic, Nadia Drake explains the risk of a catastrophic astronaut impact and NASA's fascinating planetary defense plan, including their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) planned for next year. From National Geographic:

“[The object that will pass us tomorrow] just a whopping big asteroid,” says Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, one of the planet’s leading scientists in asteroid detection and planetary defense. “It’s smaller than the thing thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it is easily capable of causing a lot of damage.”

An asteroid passing relatively close to Earth is more common than most people realize. Every year, dozens of asteroids that are big enough to cause regional devastation pass within five million miles of Earth—the cutoff for potentially hazardous asteroids. On average, one or two space rocks large enough to cataclysmically impact a continent pass by each year.

Earth will almost certainly confront a space rock large enough to obliterate a city, or worse, at some point in its future.

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Gloriously colorful new geologic map of the moon

These images are from the new Unified Geologic Map of the Moon, the most detailed lunar map ever created. Just released by the U.S. Geological Survey, it melds data from last century's Apollo mission era with fresh information captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s SELENE lunar orbiter. From Science News:

Each splash of color identifies a discrete rock or sediment formation, including craters, basins and ancient lava fields. For instance, “the darker, more earth tones are these highland-type terrains, and the reds and the purples tend to be more of these volcanic and lava flow materials,” says geologist James Skinner, who oversees the production of standardized maps for solar system bodies at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. [...]

Detailed observations from the lunar orbiters were especially helpful for clearing up uncertainties in how different craters overlapped with each other, which revealed the craters’ relative ages. Hammering out crater formation timelines gives insight into the moon’s history.

The new map could also inform future human missions to the moon by revealing regions that may be rich in useful resources or areas that need more detailed mapping to land a spacecraft there safely.

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