Tagged: NASA

NASA releases HD footage of Mars landing system

The US space agency released a spectacular video detailing the testing of an interplanetary landing system, which is designed to place more massive payloads on the surface of Mars, as it hurtled toward Earth.

In the cosmic quest to explore the surface of Mars, NASA is attempting to devise technologies that will allow it to deliver heavy payloads to the mysterious red planet. In June, NASA engineers, with the help of a massive balloon, lifted the 7,000-pound saucer-shaped test vehicle to an altitude of 190,000 feet before it was released.

The strenuous trial, which tested the so-called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), was designed to create conditions similar to that of a Mars landing.

At this point, with rockets firing to keep the vehicle stabilized, video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed the ‘flying saucer’ traveling at a speed of Mach 4.3 – or more than four times the speed of sound. Engineers then released an inflatable, life-preserver shaped device around the perimeter of the vehicle, officially known as a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or SIAD, which slowed the craft to Mach 2.

However, while the inflatable device proved tough enough to endure the rigors of such intense force, the 100-foot-wide parachute proved less successful, and nearly disintegrated as it attempted to slow the bulky, fast moving object on its descent toward Earth…

Project manager Mark Adler said that the videos will help his team as they continue to study how to improve the LDSD’s performance for a mission to Mars.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth about a million,” Adler said…

Gotcha!

I have to thank Ursarodinia for early prompts about this test – which didn’t have this level of video available. Thanks, Mike, for catching this new release.

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Creationist says NASA’s search for alien life is unbiblical. I’d be worried if it wasn’t.

Popular creationist Ken Ham has slammed NASA’s attempts to find for extraterrestrial life, saying that God has intentionally not created life anywhere outside the Earth, and calling it a “desperate attempt to prove evolution…”

Ham, who is the CEO and founder of the Creation Museum, made his comments in response to a group of scientists who suggested that within the next twenty years, space telescopes will likely discover other habitable Earth-like planets and possible extraterrestrial life.

“It’s highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone,” said Charles Bolden, the current administrator of NASA and former astronaut…

The scientists are anticipating the James Webb Space Telescope’s deployment to the Earth-Sun L2 point, where it will be able to investigate the atmospheres of far-off planets circling other suns.

“Sometime in the near future, people will be able to point to a star and say, ‘that star has a planet like Earth’,” added Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at MIT…

However, Ham argues that believing in extraterrestrial life is simply not Biblical.

“Secularists cannot allow earth to be special or unique – that’s a biblical idea (Isaiah 45:18). If life evolved here, it simply must have evolved elsewhere they believe,” he stated, adding that Christians who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God “shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe…”

“…You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation,” he continued.

“One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the ‘Godman,’ to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin – the Savior of mankind…”

The usual two questions apply. Stupid or ignorant? I’d say, “both…with the addition of simple-minded”. Ham has consciously decided to ignore science – and that’s stupid. As a result, he works hard at being ignorant of measurable, verifiable fact.

Rejecting reality, ignoring science – justifying that approach because you put all your attempts to understand the world on a book written by a small religious committee in the 14th Century – is absurd. Even more useless, Ham rejects additional understanding of the real world acquired in the several centuries since.

As much as he blathers about reliance on that book as the sum of all he needs, he still relies every day on the products of science and technology to sustain his life at a level higher than the Stone Age.

Thanks, Mike

V838 Light Echo — The Movie

Click to enlarge

What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon suddenly became one of the brightest stars in the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Then, just a few months later, it faded.

A stellar flash like this has never been seen before — supernovas and novas expel a tremendous amount of matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appeared to expel some material into space, what is seen in the above eight-frame movie, interpolated for smoothness, is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the flash. The actual time-span of the above movie is from 2002, when the flash was first recorded, to 2006.

In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant ellipsoids in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. Currently, the leading model for V838’s outburst was the orbital decay and subsequent merging of two relatively normal stars. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of Monoceros, while the largest light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

NASA debuts selfie of Earth


Click to enlarge

NASA has unveiled a global selfie, a stunning mosaic of the planet Earth seen from outer space that was stitched together from tens of thousands of self-portraits taken by people from around the world.

The Earth images were created with more than 36,000 selfies that were submitted to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory this year on Earth Day, by people from 131 nations or regions. In the mosaic, self-portraits with blue backgrounds illustrate oceans, those with white backgrounds illustrate clouds, and photos with brown backgrounds illustrate continents.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

What would a functioning warp-drive ship look like?


Image by Mark Rademaker

Artist Mark Rademaker has unveiled a set of concept images imagining what a spaceship capable of traveling to other stars in a matter of months would really look like. Although it may look like something from the next science fiction epic and is unlikely to lift off anytime soon, his IXS Enterprise design is actually based on some hard science…

The idea comes from the work published by Miguel Alcubierre in 1994. His version of a warp drive is based on the observation that, though light can only travel at a maximum speed of 186,000 miles per second spacetime itself has a theoretically unlimited speed. Indeed, many physicists believe that during the first seconds of the Big Bang, the universe expanded at some 30 billion times the speed of light.

The Alcubierre warp drive works by recreating this ancient expansion in the form of a localized bubble around a spaceship. Alcubierre reasoned that if he could form a torus of negative energy density around a spacecraft and push it in the right direction, this would compress space in front of it and expand space behind it. As a result, the ship could travel at many times the speed of light while the ship itself sits in zero gravity, meaning the crew don’t end up as a grease stain on the aft bulkhead from the acceleration.

Unfortunately, the original maths indicated that a torus the size of Jupiter would be needed, and you’d have to turn Jupiter itself into pure energy to power it. Worse, negative energy density violates a lot of physical limits itself and to create it requires forms of matter so exotic that their existence is largely hypothetical.

In recent years, Dr Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center has given the interstellar minded some cause for optimism by showing that even if the warp drive may not be possible, it may be much less impossible than previously thought. White looked at the equations and discovered that making the torus thicker, while reducing the space available for the ship, allowed the size of the torus to be greatly decreased, down to a width of 10 meters for a ship traveling ten times the speed of light.

According to White, with such a setup, a ship could reach Alpha Centauri in a little over five months, and oscillating the bubble around the craft reduces the stiffness of spacetime, making it easier to distort. This would reduce the amount of energy required by several orders of magnitude, making it possible to design a craft that, rather than being the size of Jupiter, is smaller than the Voyager 1 probe.

RTFA for another set of reasons why we ain’t seeing this anytime soon. Or maybe even later.

But, as David Szondy says in his article, “It doesn’t hurt to dream”.

In case you wondered what space smells like…?


This is Mike Hopkins – if you didn’t recognize him!

Most people probably assumed space was devoid of any sort of distinct musk — space is just a cold, dark, lifeless place, after all. But not so, says NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who recently returned to Earth after 166 days aboard the International Space Station.

Yesterday, in a tell-all, “ask-me-anything” Reddit interview, Hopkins spilled some of space’s secrets — including the fact that it smells.

“Space has a smell,” Hopkins wrote in one of his many responses. “And I don’t mean inside the space station,” he continued. “When a visiting vehicle docks with the space station, there is ‘space’ between the two vehicles. Once the pressure is equalized and the hatch is opened, you have this metallic ionization-type smell. It’s quite unique and very distinct.”

Among the other nuggets of space truth offered by Hopkins were the facts that: astronauts sweat and occasionally get nervous, the food isn’t that bad (his favorites were beef enchiladas and apricot cobbler), and that the he and his fellow ISS companions drink sweat to keep hydrated.

“The interesting part is that the sweat does go into the condensate system that gets recycled,” Hopkins wrote. “Eventually after the towels dry off and the water is recycled, it becomes drinking water.”

I know our culture inhibits casual reading of anything that even sounds like it’s somehow scientific. Still, I keep hoping.

Look to the sky this weekend — the Camelopardalids meteor shower


Click for sky directions

Sky-watchers all across North America are in for a real treat in the early morning hours of May 24 – there’s a brand new meteor shower that may light up the night sky. Scientists aren’t sure yet how many shooting stars people may see, but the May Camelopardalids meteor shower could be at a dazzling one-per-minute rate.

This is the first time Earth will directly cross the dusty trails left behind by a recently discovered comet named Comet 209P/LINEAR. Discovered in 2004, this comet’s path has been slowly altered by Jupiter’s gravity over the last 200 years and the leftover dust will now cross Earth’s path. That’s good news for those in North America who – weather permitting – will have a front-row seat to see Mother Nature’s celestial display of fireworks. The meteors will appear from the northern constellation Camelopardalis…

“What’s really nice about this particular comet [209P/Linear] is that we’re going right smack in the middle of these dust trails and the meteors are going to be pretty slow,” Carl Hergenrother said. “They’re actually going to last maybe for a second or two. It’s going to look almost like slow moving fireworks instead of the usual shooting stars that we’re used to.”

The peak of the shower will be between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. EDT, but Hergenrother said sky-watchers will still see meteors for several hours before and after those times. The biggest advice he has for people is to find a dark, safe place to get cozy and watch the stars…

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke will host a live web chat from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EDT. To access the chat, log in and ask questions, go here. Enjoy.

Thanks, Mike

Citizen scientists hope to recapture, control, abandoned NASA satellite

The International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 — ISEE-3 for short — is a 35-year-old NASA space probe that’s been abandoned in space. Since 1981, the year in which it last executed a mission for the American space agency, the probe has been orbiting aimlessly.

Now, a group of citizen-scientists with Skycorp in Los Gatos, California want to recapture the spacecraft and put it back to work. And in signing a resent agreement with the group allowing them to at least try, NASA essentially said: “Hey, why not?”

To take on the mission, the group has raised some $143,000 on the crowd-funding site RocketHub. The attempt to contact and control ISEE-3 will be more than expensive; it will be extremely challenging. Scientists at Skycorp will need to develop retro software that can talk to technology from the 1970s.

At last check, the probe’s instruments were still functional, but there’s no guarantee the probe will be able to communicate with Earth. Still, Skycorp engineers are trying. The group has a team currently staked out at Arecibo Observatory, in Puerto Rico, attempting to reestablish contact with ISEE-3 as it makes its closest approach to Earth in the last 30 years…

If the probe responds to the scientists’ signal, the group will then attempt to control it — which they now have permission to do thanks to the agreement signed this week with NASA…

As part of the agreement, any new data collected by ISEE-3 with the help of Skycorp will be made public.

Go for it, gang!

Controlling the software on board ISEE-3 shouldn’t be anymore difficult than sorting the accounting practices of the Veterans Administration.

Nine maps showing ways climate change already affecting the United States

Temperature changes over the past 22 years (1991-2012) compared to the 1901-1960 average, and compared to the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawai‘i. NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC.

This map is the simplest way to see global warming in action. Since the 19th century, average US temperatures have risen by 1.3°F to 1.9°F. (Note, though, there have been some fluctuations here and there: in the 1960s and 1970s, temperatures dipped, partly due to the cooling effect of sulfate pollution that was eventually cleaned up.)

Recent decades have been even hotter: since 1991, every region in the United States has been warming, with the biggest temperature increases occurring in the winter and spring.

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