Category - Space

Republican senator Ted Cruz to oversee Nasa in Congress

The Guardian, By Alan Yuhas, January 12

New York – Senator Ted Cruz will chair the committee that oversees science and Nasa in the new Republican-controlled Congress, raising fears that the conservative Texan will cut funding to the space agency and science programs.

Cruz’s appointment to the space, science and competitiveness subcommittee comes amid a broad shift of power in the Senate, where the GOP won a majority in the 2014 midterm elections. Cruz was the top Republican on the subcommittee before the elections.

He has publicly stated support for Nasa but has also attempted at least once to cut the agency’s funding, arguing that larger government cuts necessitated changes to the space program’s budget. In 2013, Cruz both tried to reduce Nasa’s budget and said: “It’s critical that the United States ensure its continued leadership in space.”

Cruz has constituents invested in the space agency’s future – for instance, Nasa employees and contractors at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Cruz has also spoken out against decades of science that indicate climate change, telling CNN last year that in “the last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming” to support “a so-called scientific theory”. His vociferous opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and his support of extreme budget cuts could spell trouble for Nasa’s less prominent programs, such as its own climate research and sophisticated supercomputers.

India Takes First Step to Sending Astronaut to Space

The Wall Street Journal, December 18

It’s been a pretty amazing year for India’s space agency: reaching Mars orbit at first attempt and on a tight budget then clubbing together with the United States for future explorations of the Red planet. On Thursday morning the Indian Space Research Organization wrapped up 2014 with the successful launch of a rocket that will help it discover if it has the capacity to put an Indian astronaut into space, and bring them home again.

The rocket that lifted off from southern India at 09:32 Indian Standard Time carried an un-manned crew capsule that scientists wanted to ensure could re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere without burning up.

The so-called crew-module atmospheric re-entry experiment is part of India’s plan to send a person into space within the next eight years. The capsule separated from the rocket successfully at 126 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere as hoped and deploying parachutes. It was expected to land in the Bay of Bengal and be recovered by the Indian Coast Guard.

Rosetta results: Comets ‘did not bring water to Earth’

BBC, By Rebecca Morelle, December 10

Scientists have dealt a blow to the theory that most water on Earth came from comets.

Results from Europe’s Rosetta mission, which made history by landing on Comet 67P in November, shows the water on the icy mass is unlike that on our planet. The results are published in the journal Science.

The authors conclude it is more likely that the water came from asteroids, but other scientists say more data is needed before comets can be ruled out.


The team found that there was far more heavy water on Comet 67P than on Earth.

Prof Altwegg told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme: “It is the highest-ever measured ratio of heavy water relative to light water in the Solar System.  “It is more than three times higher than on the Earth, which means that this kind of comet could not have brought water to the Earth.”

Crew Capsule Set to Launch to Apollo-Era Distances for First Time in 42 Years

The Orion spacecraft could eventually take astronauts to an asteroid or Mars.

Scientific American, By Clara Moskowitz, December 3

Cape Canaveral, FL – NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here has been relatively quiet since the space shuttles retired three years ago. But now the site is bustling with media, top NASA officials are traveling to Florida, and engineers are busy readying the launch pad to blast off a brand new spaceship. The cone-shaped Orion capsule is NASA’s next venture in human spaceflight, and it will eventually carry people to an asteroid or maybe Mars—if the U.S. can find the funding and political will.

No one will be riding Orion on Thursday, when it makes its maiden launch in a test flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05 a.m. EST. This trial run will check out Orion’s basic design by launching it to an altitude of 5,800 kilometers (15 times farther from the Earth’s surface than the International Space Station) before it splashes down four hours later in the Pacific Ocean. “This is the first human-rated spacecraft that’s gone beyond low-Earth orbit in 42 years,” Mike Hawes, Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin, the spacecraft’s prime contractor, said Tuesday in a preflight NASA news conference. “It is a big deal.”

NPR: NASA Prepares To Test New Spacecraft (That You’ve Likely Never Heard Of)

How Distant Planets Affect Earth’s Ice Ages And Gave Rise To Civilization

Business Insider, By Leslie Baehr

Human-induced warming is sending Earth into frightening and uncharted climate territory — but humans are not the first force to cause colossal changes to our climate.

Other celestial bodies, including planets, tug at Earth causing it to move in ways that affect our ice caps in history-shaping ways, as discussed by narrator and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on Sunday’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

For example, the pull of the planets influences Earth’s tilt. They cause Earth’s axis to wobble in a circular motion similar to the spin of a top. You can can see these movements in the Cosmos GIF to the left.

If you could stick a pen out of Earth’s north pole, it would draw a circle about every 26,000 years. In 14,000 AD for example, our north star was not Polaris, as it is now, but Vega. In 12,000 years , Vega will be our north star again.

The pull of the planets also cause the Earth’s tilt to change between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees over 41,000 years. When our tilt is more extreme, seasons can be more severe, with warmer summers and cooler winters. When the tilt is less, we get cooler summers and milder winters. Currently our tilt is about 23.4 degrees — near the middle.

More at the link

Gravitational waves: have US scientists heard echoes of the big bang?

Discovery of gravitational waves by Bicep telescope at south pole could give scientists insights into how universe was born

The Guardian, By Stuart Clark, March 14

There is intense speculation among cosmologists that a US team is on the verge of confirming they have detected “primordial gravitational waves” – an echo of the big bang in which the universe came into existence 14bn years ago.

Rumours have been rife in the physics community about an announcement due on Monday from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. If there is evidence for gravitational waves, it would be a landmark discovery that would change the face of cosmology and particle physics.

Gravitational waves are the last untested prediction of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. They are minuscule ripples in the fabric of the universe that carry energy across space, somewhat similar to waves crossing an ocean. Convincing evidence of their discovery would almost certainly lead to a Nobel prize.

“If they do announce primordial gravitational waves on Monday, I will take a huge amount of convincing,” said Hiranya Peiris, a cosmologist from University College London. “But if they do have a robust detection … Jesus, wow! I’ll be taking next week off.”


For decades, cosmologists have thought that the signature of primordial gravitational waves could be imprinted on this radiation. “It’s been called the Holy Grail of cosmology,” says Peiris, “It would be a real major, major, major discovery.”

Scientists await spacecraft’s wake-up call ahead of first-ever comet landing

AFP – One of the most ambitious missions ever undertaken by European scientists will pass a critical test on Monday, when the Rosetta spacecraft “wakes up” after almost three years of deep-space hibernation and prepares for the first-ever comet landing.

Rosetta has travelled to a point located around 675 million kilometers from the sun since it was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in March 2004, and for months has been quietly closing in on its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.


Chinese spacecraft lands on moon

CNN, By Sophie Brown, December 14

China’s first lunar rover landed on the moon Saturday, less than two weeks after it blasted off from Earth, Chinese state news reported.

The landing makes China one of only three nations — after the United States and the former Soviet Union — to “soft-land” on the moon’s surface, and the first to do so in more than three decades.
China launches first mission to the moon

Chang’e-3, an unmanned spacecraft, will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) — a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 meters.

The solar-powered rover will patrol the moon’s surface, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months. The robot’s name was decided by a public online poll and comes from a Chinese myth about the pet white rabbit of a goddess, Chang’e, who is said to live on the moon.

Neutrinos from deep space detected on Earth

CBC, By Emily Chung

Discovery at Antarctica’s IceCube opens up new area of astronomy, may solve cosmic ray puzzle

High-energy subatomic particles called neutrinos from beyond our solar system have been detected on Earth for the first time ever.

The researchers involved say the discovery opens up a new area of astronomy and has the potential to answer a question that has puzzled astronomers for a century: Where do cosmic rays come from?

“It really is the dawn of a new field,” said Darren Grant, a University of Alberta physicist, who was part of an international scientific collaboration called IceCube that reported the recent detection of 28 extremely high-energy neutrinos in Antarctica that are thought to have come from space.

The results were published online Thursday in the journal Science.

Astrophysicists had theorized that extremely high-energy extraterrestrial neutrinos – more energetic than any produced on Earth or by the sun – would be blasted out by the same catastrophic events in deep space that are thought to generate cosmic rays.

Now, Grant says, scientists have finally detected some.

“They’re the highest energy neutrino events that have ever been measured… It’s proof that they came from outside the Earth.”

Two of the neutrinos had energies above a whopping petaelectron volt. That’s 125 times the 8 teraelectronvolt energy of the record proton collisions generated by world’s biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, and billions of times the energy of neutrinos produced by the sun.

Cosmic ray mystery

Cosmic rays, discovered more than a century ago, are extremely high-energy radiation that travels through space and strikes the Earth. Astrophysicists have theorized that they might be produced by extreme catastrophic events in deep space, such as supernovas, black holes, pulsars, or galactic nuclei — the merger of two black holes.

More at the link

Lost world — what happened to Mars?

CNN – You may have heard it before: billions of years ago Mars probably looked more like Earth does now, with clouds and oceans and a much thicker atmosphere. It may even have had some type of microbes. But now it’s a barren, frozen desert.

So what happened? Where did the air and water go?

NASA is launching a new spacecraft to try to find out. It’s called MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. It’s the first mission dedicated to studying the red planet’s upper atmosphere.

“We expect to learn how the modern Mars works, really in detail. To see its climate state, to understand how the atmosphere is lost to space — how Mars may have lost a magnetic field — to take that information and map it back in time, ” said NASA’s James Garvin. more

Radio Bursts Discovered From Beyond Our Galaxy

(NASA) -Astronomers, including a team member from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have detected the first population of radio bursts known to originate from galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. The sources of the light bursts are unknown, but cataclysmic events, such as merging or exploding stars, are likely the triggers.

A radio burst is a quick surge of light from a point on the sky, made up of longer wavelengths in the radio portion of the light spectrum. A single radio burst was detected about six years ago, but researchers were unclear about whether it came from within or beyond our galaxy.

The new radio-burst detections — four in total — are from billions of light-years away, erasing any doubt that the phenomenon is real. The discovery, described in the July 4 issue of the journal Science, comes from an international team that used the Parkes Observatory in Australia. More

Applicants wanted for a one way ticket to Mars

(BBC) – Want to go to Mars? Dutch organisation Mars One says it will open applications imminently. It would be a one-way trip, and the company hopes to build a community of settlers on the planet.

Uncharted waters, mountains or far away lands have always drawn explorers. History books show that desire for adventure, even in the face of extreme danger, did not deter the likes of Columbus or Magellan.

So it is perhaps not surprising that Mars One has already received thousands of prospective applicants. But there is no return – unlike the mission which hopes to fly to

Future explorers take note. Applicants must be resilient, adaptable, resourceful and must work well within a team. The whole project will be televised, from the reality TV style selection process, to landing and beyond. more

Al Worden: ‘The loneliest human being’

Seven men in the history of humanity stand apart from the rest of us. These are the Apollo command module pilots who spent time alone in orbit around the Moon, while their colleagues walked on the lunar surface. When they were on the far side of the Moon, these astronauts were completely out of contact, and further from Earth, than anyone had ever been before. Or has ever been since.

(BBC Interview) – Only five of these people are still alive and, when I meet him, Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden still looks every bit the veteran astronaut. Even in the unlikely surroundings of a crowded restaurant in Yorkshire, in northern England, this former test pilot stands out – an alpha male holding court, surrounded by a group of admirers eagerly hanging on his every word.

Worden flew to the Moon in July 1971, alongside commander Dave Scott and lunar module pilot Jim Irwin. During his time alone on the command module he entered the record books as the “most isolated human being” ever – at times his companions being 3,600km (2,235 miles) away on the lunar surface.

Like the other Apollo astronauts I’ve met Worden would rather talk about the mission and its achievements, than himself. As the first of the so-called “J” class missions, Apollo 15 is widely accepted as the most scientifically rigorous of the Apollo programme. Nevertheless, as we sit down in a quiet corner of the hotel bar, with proposals out there for a return to the Moon and missions to Mars, I’m keen to learn about the human experience of being so far from home:

more with pics at link

Now, Voyager

Voyager 1 has crossed over into a medium that is not the Solar System and not quite interstellar space, NASA announced yesterday.

Launched 35 years ago, Voyager 1 and her sister craft, Voyager 2 were intended as emissaries from earth to whatever civilization it encounters over the course of millions of years.

The most interesting thing is to compare the changes to earth and to humanity since their 1977 launches:

  1)     The first personal computer, the Commodore PET, was introduced on January 1, 1977. It came with an 8 bit chipset, and up to 96 kB on  its hard drive. By comparison, the Voyagers launced with 68 kB hard drives. The iPod nano ships with 16 GB (16,384,000kB).

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