NASA

NASA Launches Satellite To Observe Soil Moisture 18

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-dry-I-am dept.
An anonymous reader sends word that NASA has launched an Earth-observing satellite, which will measure the amount of moisture in soil. "In one of the space agency's bolder projects, a newly launched NASA satellite will monitor western drought and study the moisture, frozen and liquid in Earth's soil. It's true that a satellite can't possibly fix the devastating drought that has been plaguing the American West for the last years. It is also true that it can't possibly change the fact that California has just gone through the driest month in recorded history. But what NASA plans to do is to provide the possibility of understanding the patterns of this extreme weather and, perhaps, foresee how much worse it could actually become. Called the SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive Satellite), this new, unmanned project was successfully launched on Saturday atop the United Launch Alliance Delta II Rocket. The launch took place at the California Vandenberg Air Force base at exactly 9:22 AM EST. With the successful launch, NASA just kick started a three year, $916 million mission focused on measuring and forecasting droughts, floods and other possible natural disasters that might come our way in the future."
NASA

NASA Looking At Nuclear Thermal Rockets To Explore the Solar System 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
MarkWhittington writes: Officially, NASA has been charged with sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Toward that end, according to a story in Universe Today, space agency engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center are looking at an old concept for interplanetary travel, nuclear thermal engines. "...according to the report (cached), an NTP rocket could generate 200 kWt of power using a single kilogram of uranium for a period of 13 years – which works out of to a fuel efficiency rating of about 45 grams per 1000 MW-hr. In addition, a nuclear-powered engine could also provide superior thrust relative to the amount of propellant used." However, some doubts have been expressed whether NASA will be granted the budget to develop such engines.
Space

ESA: No Conclusive Evidence of Big Bang Gravitational Waves 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-is-self-correcting dept.
hypnosec writes: The European Space Agency has made a joint analysis of data gathered by the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments and its own Planck satellite to try to verify previous reports of BICEP2's primordial gravitational wave detection. However, the ESA was unable to find evidence of primordial gravitational waves, and they think the earlier report was simply based on an outdated model that didn't take interstellar dust into account.

"The Milky Way is pervaded by a mixture of gas and dust shining at similar frequencies to those of the CMB, and this foreground emission affects the observation of the most ancient cosmic light. Very careful analysis is needed to separate the foreground emission from the cosmic background. Critically, interstellar dust also emits polarized light, thus affecting the CMB polarization as well. ... The BICEP2 team had chosen a field where they believed dust emission would be low, and thus interpreted the signal as likely to be cosmological. However, as soon as Planck’s maps of the polarized emission from Galactic dust were released (PDF), it was clear that this foreground contribution could be much higher than previously expected."
Math

There Is No "You" In a Parallel Universe 219

Posted by timothy
from the speak-for-yourself-singleton dept.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Ever since quantum mechanics first came along, we've recognized how tenuous our perception of reality is, and how — in many ways — what we perceive is just a very small subset of what's going on at the quantum level in our Universe. Then, along came cosmic inflation, teaching us that our observable Universe is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the matter-and-radiation filled space out there, with possibilities including Universes with different fundamental laws and constants, differing quantum outcomes existing in disconnected regions of space, and even the fantastic one of parallel Universes and alternate versions of you and me. But is that last one really admissible? The best modern evidence teaches us that even with all the Universes that inflation creates, it's still a finite number, and an insufficiently large number to contain all the possibilities that a 13.8 billion year old Universe with 10^90 particles admits."
Space

How Gaseous, Neptune-Like Planets Can Become Habitable 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-to-terraform-your-neighbor-in-six-easy-steps dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Life as we know it requires small, rocky planets. The gas giants of our solar system aren't habitable (to our knowledge), but a research team has discovered that smaller, Neptune-like planets can be transformed into gas-free, potentially habitable worlds with a little help from red dwarf stars. Such planets are usually formed far out in a planetary system, but tidal forces can cause them to migrate inward. When they reach the habitable zone of their host star, they absorb far larger amounts of x-ray and ultraviolet radiation. This can eventually boil off most of the the gas atmosphere, leaving behind the core: a small, rocky world capable of supporting life.
Space

The Big Bang By Balloon 23

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-the-beginning dept.
StartsWithABang writes If you want to map the entire sky — whether you're looking in the visible, ultraviolet, infrared or microwave, your best bet is to go to space. Only high above the Earth's atmosphere can you map out the entire sky, with your vision unobscured by anything terrestrial. But that costs millions of dollars for the launch alone! What if you've got new technology you want to test? What if you still want to defeat most of the atmosphere? (Which you need to do, for most wavelengths of light.) And what if you want to make observations on large angular scales, something by-and-large impossible from the ground in microwave wavelengths? You launch a balloon! The Spider telescope has just completed its data-taking operations, and is poised to take the next step — beyond Planck and BICEP2 — in understanding the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.
Education

Nobel Laureate and Laser Inventor Charles Townes Passes 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the rest-in-peace dept.
An anonymous reader writes Charles Hard Townes, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died early Tuesday in Oakland. He was 99. "Charlie was a cornerstone of the Space Sciences Laboratory for almost 50 years,” said Stuart Bale, director of the lab and a UC Berkeley professor of physics. “He trained a great number of excellent students in experimental astrophysics and pioneered a program to develop interferometry at short wavelengths. He was a truly inspiring man and a nice guy. We’ll miss him.”
Space

We May Have Jupiter To Thank For the Nitrogen In Earth's Atmosphere 46

Posted by Soulskill
from the jupiter-never-forgets-our-birthday dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the Earth's atmosphere. It's also the 4th most abundant element in the human body. But where did all the nitrogen on Earth come from? Scientists aren't sure, but they have a new theory. Back when the solar system was just a protoplanetary disk, the ice orbiting the early Sun included ammonia, which has a nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. But there needed to be a way for the nitrogen to get to the developing Earth. That's where Jupiter comes in. During its theorized Grand Tack, where it plunged into the inner solar system and then retreated outward again, it created shock waves in the dust and ice cloud surrounding the sun. These shock waves caused gentle heating of the ammonia ice, which allowed it to melt and react with chromium-bearing metal to form a mineral called carlsbergite. New research (abstract) suggests this mineral was then present when the Earth's accretion happened, supplying much of the nitrogen we would eventually need for life.
Space

Gamma-ray Bursts May Explain Fermi's Paradox 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the fault-in-our-stars dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A new study confirms the potential hazard of nearby gamma-ray bursts. It quantifies the probability of an event near Earth, and more generally in the Milky Way and other galaxies over time: "[Evolved] life as it exists on Earth could not take place in almost any galaxy that formed earlier than about five billion years after the Big Bang." This could explain the Fermi's paradox, or why we don't see billion-year-old civilizations all around us.
Space

Kepler Discovers Solar System's Ancient 'Twin' 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-quite-sol-o dept.
astroengine writes: Astronomers have found a star system that bears a striking resemblance to our inner solar system. It's a sun-like star that plays host to a system of five small exoplanets — from the size of Mercury to the size of Venus. But there's something very alien about this compact 'solar system'; it formed when the universe was only 20 percent the age it is now, making it the most ancient star system playing host to terrestrial sized worlds discovered to date.
NASA

Proposed Space Telescope Uses Huge Opaque Disk To Surpass Hubble 124

Posted by timothy
from the world-of-unlimited-resources dept.
Required Snark writes NASA has funded a study of a geo-sychrounous orbit telescope that uses a half-mile diameter opaque disk to provide images with 1000 times the resolution of the Hubble. It uses diffraction at the edge of the disk to focus light, resulting in a very high quality image. It's named the Aragoscope, after the scientist Francois Arago, who first noticed how a disk affects light waves. "When deployed the Aragoscope will consist of an opaque disk a half mile in diameter parked in geostationary orbit behind which is an orbiting telescope keeping station some tens to hundreds of miles behind that collects the light at the focal point and rectifies it into a high-resolution image. 'The opaque disk of the Aragoscope works in a similar way to a basic lens,' says CU-Boulder doctoral student and team member Anthony Harness. 'The light diffracted around the edge of the circular disk travels the same path length to the center and comes into focus as an image.' He added that, since image resolution increases with telescope diameter, being able to launch such a large, yet lightweight disk would allow astronomers to achieve higher-resolution images than with smaller, traditional space telescopes."
Businesses

Virgin Galactic Dumps Scaled Composites For Spaceship Two 38

Posted by samzenpus
from the seeing-other-people dept.
PvtVoid writes Virgin Galactic, following an aggressive schedule to build a replacement for the Spaceship Two which crashed in October, is doing so without partner Scaled Composites, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kevin Mickey, the president of Scaled Composites, confirmed this week that his company would no longer be involved in testing. He said Scaled would still work as a consultant to Virgin Galactic.
Space

"Once In a Lifetime" Asteroid Sighting Monday Night 59

Posted by samzenpus
from the watch-the-show dept.
An anonymous reader writes Tonight, Asteroid 2004 BL86 will make a pass by the Earth at just 745,000 miles away. This should offer stargazers a great opportunity to see the half-kilometer space rock. CNN has some tips on the best method and time to look. From the article: "The best chance for viewing will be from 8 p.m. ET Monday to 1 a.m. ET Tuesday. Asteroid 2004 BL86 is large, and it will brighten, but nonetheless will not be observable with the naked eye. Some astronomy websites say a pair of binoculars could do the trick, but Sky & Telescope recommends at least a 3- or 4-inch diameter telescope. 'One good technique for fast-movers like 2004 BL86 is to identify and lock onto a star along its path,' Sky & Telescope senior editor Kelly Beatty says. 'Then just watch at the time that the asteroid is predicted to pass by that particular star.'"
Space

How Do We Know the Timeline of the Universe? 152

Posted by timothy
from the magic-8-ball-helps-narrow-things-down dept.
StartsWithABang writes The history of the Universe happened in a well-known order: inflation ends, matter wins out over antimatter, the electroweak symmetry breaks, antimatter annihilates away, atomic nuclei form, then neutral atoms, stars, galaxies, and eventually us. But scientists and science magazines often publish timelines of the Universe with incredibly precise times describing when these various events occur. Here's how we arrive at those values, along with the rarely-publicized uncertainties.
Government

SpaceX, US Air Force Settle Spy Sat Dispute 80

Posted by timothy
from the show-elon-what-you're-wearing dept.
hypnosec writes The US Air Force and private space flight company SpaceX have settled their dispute involving the military's expendable rocket program, thereby paving the way for SpaceX to join the spy satellite launch program known as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The settlement opens doors for SpaceX to compete with United Launch Alliance (ULA) for launch of spy satellites. ULA is a joint Boeing-Lockheed venture – the only private player to have received clearance for launching black ops satellites.
Mars

NASA Considers Autonomous Martian Helicopter To Augment Future Rovers 83

Posted by timothy
from the imperial-probe-droid dept.
SternisheFan (2529412) writes with this story at the Verge about an approach being considered by NASA to overcome some of the difficulties in moving a wheeled or multi-legged ground vehicle around the surface of Mars, which has proven to be a difficult task. Rover teams still have a tough time with the Martian surface even though they're flush with terrestrial data. The alien surface is uneven, and ridges and valleys make navigating the terrain difficult. The newest solution proposed by JPL is the Mars Helicopter, an autonomous drone that could 'triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day,' according to NASA. The helicopter would fly ahead of a rover when its view is blocked and send Earth-bound engineers the right data to plan the rover's route.
Space

Europe and China Will Team Up For a Robotic Space Mission 39

Posted by timothy
from the actually-the-robots-are-pulling-the-strings dept.
Taco Cowboy writes with this excerpt from Space.com: On Monday (Jan. 19), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a call for proposals for a robotic space mission that the two organizations will develop jointly. "The goal of the present Call is to define a scientific space mission to be implemented by ESA and CAS as a cooperative endeavor between the European and Chinese scientific communities," ESA officials wrote in a statement Monday. "The mission selected as an outcome of the present Joint Call will follow a collaborative approach through all the phases: study, definition, implementation, operations and scientific exploitation." The call envisions a low-budget mission, saying that ESA and CAS are each prepared to contribute about 53 million euros (U.S. $61.5 million at current exchange rates). The spacecraft must weigh less than 661 lbs. (300 kilograms) at launch and be designed to operate for at least two to three years, ESA officials wrote in the call for proposals. All proposals are due by March 16, and the peer-review process will start in April. Mission selection is expected to occur in late 2015, followed by six years of development, with a launch in 2021.
Media

UHD Spec Stomps on Current Blu-ray Spec, But Will Consumers Notice? 332

Posted by timothy
from the is-your-nose-on-the-glass? dept.
An anonymous reader writes Details have emerged on the new UHD Blu-ray spec and players set to start shipping this summer. UHD promises resolutions 4X greater than Blu-ray 1080p as well as much higher data rates, enhanced color space and more audio options. But, will consumers care, and will they be willing to upgrade their HDTV's, AV Receivers, and Blu-ray players to adopt a new format whose benefits may only be realized on ultra large displays or close viewing distances? The article makes the interesting point that UHD isn't synonymous with 4K, even if both handily beat the resolution of most household displays.
Space

10 New Rosetta Images Reveal Comet 67P In All Its Glory 29

Posted by Soulskill
from the hooray-science dept.
sciencehabit writes: The first scientific results from Rosetta at comet 67P have been published, and they detail a surprising diversity of features on the 4-kilometer-long duck-shaped comet. The discoveries include images from Rosetta's main science camera, OSIRIS, which reveal 67P to be a far more varied place than anyone expected. The article summarizes a trove of scientific papers that were published today about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The best part? They're all freely available.
Science

Scientists Slow the Speed of Light 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the lazy-particles dept.
lightbox32 sends news that scientists have found a way to slow individual photons within a beam of light. Their work was published today in Science Express (abstract, pre-print). The researchers liken a light beam to a team of cyclists — while the group as a whole moves at a constant speed, individual riders may occasionally drop back or move forward. They decided to focus on the individual photons, rather than measuring the beam as a whole. The researchers imposed a particular pattern on a photon, then raced it against another photon, and found that the two arrived at their destination at slightly different times. The work demonstrates that, after passing the light beam through a mask, photons move more slowly through space. Crucially, this is very different to the slowing effect of passing light through a medium such as glass or water, where the light is only slowed during the time it is passing through the material—it returns to the speed of light after it comes out the other side. The effect of passing the light through the mask is to limit the top speed at which the photons can travel.