July 18, 2014
July 14, 2014
Excited New Yorkers were treated to Manhattanhenge this past Friday, July 11, and Saturday, July 12, when the sun aligned perfectly with the grid of city streets.
The circumstance occurs twice a year, during which the setting sun perfectly aligns with the east–west streets of Manhattan’s main street grid.
July 9, 2014
The dream of a completely clean, high powered and almost limitless renewable energy source is getting closer. Nuclear Fusion is the process by which atoms
are compressed to such a degree that their nuclei fuse, releasing a huge amount of energy. Essentially it is the opposite of current Nuclear Power, based on fission whereby large nuclei are torn apart to release energy. This is the process which happens in stars, turning Hydrogen into the heavier Helium, and all other natural elements.
The National Ignition Facility in California began experimenting in 2009 to slow progress. They are using lasers and X-rays to compress a fuel pellet with a frozen Hydrogen Istotope, but it takes significantly more energy to start the fusion reaction than the process actually produced, making it currently ineffective as a fuel source.
However, an article in Nature this week confirmed that a milestone had been passed, whereby of the amount of energy actually delivered to the pellet, the reaction released a surplus of energy. The next step is to improve the efficiency of how the lasers deliver energy to the pellet. However, this is still a long way away, perhaps decades, but once that has been refined, mankind will essentially be able to build miniature stars to produce nearly unlimited energy.
July 3, 2014
June 30, 2014
For 50 years, scientists have wondered what annihilated the ancestor of L-chondrites, the roof-smashing, head-bonking meteorites that frequently pummel Earth.
Now, a new kind of meteorite discovered in a southern Sweden limestone quarry may finally solve the mystery, scientists report. The strange new rock may be the missing “other half” from one of the biggest interstellar collisions in a billion years.
“Something we didn’t really know about before was flying around and crashed into the L-chondrites,” said study co-author Gary Huss of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The space rock is a 470-million-year-old fossil meteorite first spotted three years ago by workers at Sweden’s Thorsberg quarry, where stonecutters have an expert eye for extraterrestrial objects. Quarriers have plucked 101 fossil meteorites from the pit’s ancient pink limestone in the last two decades. [Photos: New Kind of Meteorite Found in Sweden]
Researchers have nicknamed the new meteorite the “mysterious object” until its formal name is approved, said lead study author Birger Schmitz, of Lund University in Sweden and Chicago’s Field Museum. It will likely be named for a nearby church, the sterplana, he said.
Geochemically, the meteorite falls into a class called the primitive achondrites, and most resembles a rare group of achondrites called the winonaites. But small differences in certain elements in its chromite grains set the mysterious object apart from the winonaites, and its texture and exposure age distinguish the new meteorite from the other 49,000 or so meteorites found so far on Earth.
“It’s a very, very strange and unusual find,” Schmitz told Live Science’s Our Amazing Planet.
The new meteorite was recently reported online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, and the study will appear in the journal’s Aug. 15 print edition.
Until now, all of the quarry’s fossil meteorites were L-chondrites. Schmitz, who has led the chondrite cataloging, admitted the rock hunt had become “quite boring.”
But the rare find has not only revitalized interest in the quarry, it has also brought together the world’s top meteorite experts for a global hunt through geologic time. Thanks to Schmitz’s careful detective work on meteorites, scientists now know that each kind of meteorite leaves behind a unique calling card: tough minerals called spinels. Even if meteorites weather away, their spinels linger for hundreds of million of years in Earth rocks. Schmitz and his cohorts think they can pin down how many meteorites rained down on Earth in the past 2.5 billion years, as well as what kind fell, by extracting extraterrestrial spinels from sedimentary rocks. Their work may confirm suspicions that recent meteorite falls represent a mere fraction of the rocks drifting in space.
“I think our new finding adds to the understanding that the meteorites that come down on Earth today may not be entirely representative of what is out there,” Schmitz said. “One thing our study shows is that we maybe don’t know as much as we think we know about the solar system.”
The limestone quarry preserves the remnants of a cosmic cataclysm that took place 470 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period. Scientists think there was an enormous crash between two large bodies out in the asteroid belt. The crash blew apart two asteroids, or an asteroid and comet, slinging dust and debris toward Earth. One of the impactors was the source of all L-chondrite meteorites. But no one has ever found a piece of the rock that hit the L-chondrite parent, until now.
The Swedish meteorite’s exposure age the length of time it sailed through space is the key to placing the fossil space rock at the scene of the crash. The meteorite zipped from the asteroid belt to Earth in just 1 million years. That’s the same remarkably young exposure age as the L-chondrites recovered from the Thorsberg quarry, suggesting the rocks sprayed Earth in the same wave of space debris. [Infographic: Asteroid Belt Explained]
Meteorite expert Tim Swindle, who was not involved in the study, praised the team’s careful analysis and said it was unlikely that any other meteorite but an Ordovician fragment would have such a short exposure age. “Very, very few modern meteorites have exposure ages that low,” said Swindle, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Typically, it takes things longer to get here from the asteroid belt,” he said. “It’s a telling argument.”
But because so little is left of the original meteorite almost all its minerals have been altered to clay Swindle thinks there’s wiggle room for linking it to known classes of meteorite, instead of calling it a new find.
“I think it’s entirely plausible [that it's a new kind of meteorite], and it’s a great study, but that’s not a guarantee they’ve got it right,” Swindle said. “But if they didn’t, it’s because of new things we’ll find out in future work, not because of their analysis.”
The geochemical tests were performed on sand-sized chromite spinels, which confirmed the rock’s extraterrestrial origin. The altered clay is also about 100,000 times richer in iridium than terrestrial rocks. Iridium is the element that marks the meteorite impact horizon when the dinosaurs went extinct.
Hunt for space history
Schmitz now plans to search for these strange achondrite spinels in the quarry sediments, as well as in other rocks of the same age around the world. Ordovician meteorite spinels from L-chondrites have been found in China, Russia and Sweden, and small micrometeorites have been discovered in Scotland and South America. Researchers think about 100 times as many meteorites fell on Earth during the Ordovician compared with today, but only about a dozen impact craters of the proper age have been identified. [Crash! 10 Biggest Impact Craters on Earth]
A bigger quest is also in the works. Schmitz and his colleagues plan to dissolve tons of rock in acid in a global search for meteoritic spinel grains. This detective work will help researchers pin down the history of the asteroid belt and solar system. Spinels can provide an estimate of how many meteorites fell in the past, and what kind hit Earth. These tiny pieces of vanished meteorites may fill in missing history, because meteorite impact craters often vanish due to geologic forces.
“This can give you a ground truth for models for how the solar system may have evolved over time,” said Gary Huss, a co-author on the Swedish meteorite study who will collaborate on the spinel search. “I think a lot of people have worried for some time that we don’t really know what’s going on in the asteroid belt.”
June 23, 2014
When NASA said last year it was planning to capture an asteroid, park it close to the moon and later send astronauts to explore it, many people had to check the calendar to confirm the space agency wasn’t simply demonstrating it had a sense of humor.
Well, make no mistake, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is certainly real, and the agency recently offered a progress report on its ambitious plan, which essentially involves grabbing a space rock using a robotic spacecraft before putting it in a stable orbit around the moon.
The process of getting hold of the asteroid has been likened to popping it into a bag with a drawstring
“You bag it,” NASA’s Donald Yeomans said. “You attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it.”
The space agency is currently in the middle of deciding which of two missions to go with – the first idea is to “fully capture” a small asteroid in open space, while the second is to collect a “boulder-sized sample” from a much bigger asteroid.
The mission, whichever it decides to go for, is on schedule to take place just five years from now, in 2019, with NASA planning to make its final decision on which asteroid to capture a year earlier.
In the meantime, concept studies are set to take place over a six-month period, beginning this July, in which the agency will work on refining key concepts and technologies for its grand mission.
“With these system concept studies, we are taking the next steps to develop capabilities needed to send humans deeper into space than ever before, and ultimately to Mars, while testing new techniques to protect Earth from asteroids,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a release.
So far, nine asteroids have been selected as candidates for ARM, with each ticking the boxes for orbit type and size. The sun-orbiting Spitzer space telescope has identified one asteroid in particular – 2011 MD – as having the ideal characteristics for the full-capture mission. Spitzer’s data shows 2011 MD to be about 20 feet in size, fitting nicely within NASA’s desire for a rock no larger than 32 feet. Once secured in a stable orbit, the agency plans to send astronauts to explore the asteroid some time in the 2020s.
“Observing these elusive remnants that may date from the formation of our solar system as they come close to Earth is expanding our understanding of our world and the space it resides in,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Closer study of these objects challenge our capabilities for future exploration and will help us test ways to protect our planet from impact.”
NASA has said it thinks there are some 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) flying around ‘near’ Earth, with each one big enough to ruin our day should it score a direct hit. PHAs are defined by NASA as any space rock currently within five million miles of Earth with a diameter greater than 330 feet.
June 16, 2014
Dr. Harold “Sonny” White is still working on a warp drive at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. His work is still in the experimental stage but that doesn’t mean he can’t imagine what the real lifeEnterprise ship would look like according to his math.
You’re looking at it right now.
This is the starship that may take us where no human has gone before. And it has me screaming like a little Klingon girl.
Concept 3D artist Mark Rademaker told io9 that “he worked with White to create the updated model, which includes a sleek ship nestled at the center of two enormous rings, which create the warp bubble.”
The updated model is the one you can see above, a variation of the original concept which, according to Dr. White, was rendered by Rademaker based on an idea by Matthew Jeffries, the guy who came with “the familiar Star Trek look.” This is the original warp drive spaceship concept:
Dr. White—whose daily life is working in future propulsion solutions for interplanetary travel in the near future, like ion and plasma thrusters—developed new theoretical work that solved the problems of the Alcubierre Drive concept, a theory that allowed faster-than-light travel based on Einstein’s field equations in general relativity, developed by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre.
A spaceship equipped with a warp drive would allow faster-than-light travel by bending the space around it, making distances shorter. At the local level, however, the spaceship wouldn’t be moving faster than light. Therefore, warp drive travel doesn’t violate the first Einstein commandment: Thou shall not travel faster than light.
Not a fantasy, but real science
But Interstellar is just science fiction. Dr. White’s work at the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate is science. And while his department only gets peanuts compared to NASA’s budget (not to talk about the Pentagon’s) I find his words comforting:
Perhaps a Star Trek experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility.
See, Dr. White and his colleagues aren’t making a movie or coming up with 3D renders for the sake of it. They just don’t just believe a real life warp drive is theoretically possible; they’ve already started the work to create one:
Working at NASA Eagleworks—a skunkworks operation deep at NASA’s Johnson Space Center—Dr. White’s team is trying to find proof of those loopholes. They have “initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble” using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer.
It may sound like a small thing now, but the implications of the research huge. In his own words:
Although this is just a tiny instance of the phenomena, it will be existence proof for the idea of perturbing space time-a “Chicago pile” moment, as it were. Recall that December of 1942 saw the first demonstration of a controlled nuclear reaction that generated a whopping half watt. This existence proof was followed by the activation of a ~ four megawatt reactor in November of 1943. Existence proof for the practical application of a scientific idea can be a tipping point for technology development.
The roadmap to the warp drive
According to Dr. White, this is a roadmap that they need to follow to achieve that final objective of rapid interstellar travel.
Every time I read that paragraph I smile—and these renders just make my smile so wide it looks stupid.
OK, Dr. White, you got our attention. Make it so.
June 13, 2014
A protoype of a space plane being developed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station will take to the skies again later this year.
The prototype of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser vehicle has already been through some drop tests and a free flight in 2013, which ended when the Dream Chaser skidded off the runway. The new series of flights will include several automated ones, followed by piloted trips, said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s space systems division.
The reusable astronaut taxi is one of three designs competing for NASA dollars in the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The initiative aims to create a viable United States spacecraft that could ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. At the moment, Russian Soyuz vehicles are the only spacecraft that can deliver astronauts into orbit. [See images of the Dream Chaser space plane]
Three companies – Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing – are funded through the Commercial Crew Program right now, but that pool of competitors could get smaller in the next phase of the program, which will be announced later this year.
“We believe we’re well positioned for that next phase, but in addition to that, I think what we’re doing is building a system [to attract] multiple clients,” Sirangelo told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.
Sierra Nevada aims to launch Dream Chaser into space for the first time in November 2016, company representatives have said.
Working in a former shuttle facility
Sirangelo delivered his comments while announcing a contract with Craig Technologies, an engineering and technical company that is leasing a 161,000-square-foot building in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which was formerly used for NASA shuttle logistics.
Craig will provide a piece of hardware that will help “move the Dream Chaser around and put it on its adapter for flight,” Sirangelo said. Called a “cradle,” the ground equipment device is intended to lift and move the spacecraft while it is being processed.
“This is the first of many different pieces of business we will be doing here,” Sirangelo said.
Dream Chaser will ride to orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and return to Earth by making a landing on a runway, much like NASA’s space shuttles did before their retirement in 2011. Craig is expected to provide several other products and services to SNC, which Sirangelo said are being negotiated. The value of the contract was not disclosed.
‘We’re able to bring jobs’
In 2012, Craig also brokered a five-year Space Act Agreement with NASA for the agency to let it use 1,600 pieces of equipment that were once used to maintain and repair the shuttle.
Because the agreement required Craig to stay within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Kennedy Space Center, Craig signed a lease with Cape Canaveral Ventures for the nearby shuttle depot.
Since 2013, Craig (which has about 400 employees in the United States) has hired 150 employees, with 65 of those former shuttle workers. It also spent $2 million renovating the facility and hiring workers so far.
“The important message is we’re able to bring jobs, and keep that knowledge base, and retain that experience and that skilled work force that was here before,” Carol Craig, founder and CEO of Craig Technologies, said during the news conference. “That’s what we hope to bring to Mark and his team.”
Craig joins a list of about 40 companies that are participating in the Dream Chaser program. Sierra Nevada also has participated in missions such as NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, where it provided some of the systems that helped the rover land in the last minute of its so-called “seven minutes of terror” touchdown in 2012.
June 10, 2014
At least, this ad agency promoting Carlsberg beer seems to think so …
Astronomers have apparently discovered the first of a class of strange hybrid stars, confirming theoretical predictions made four decades ago.
In 1975, physicist Kip Thorne and astronomer Anna Zytkow proposed the existence of odd objects that are hybrids between red supergiants and neutron stars — the collapsed, superdense remnants of supernova explosions.
These so-called Thorne-Zytkow objects (TZOs) likely form when a red supergiant gobbles up a nearby neutron star, which sinks down into the giant’s core, researchers said. TZOs look like ordinary red supergiants, like the famed star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion, but differ in their chemical fingerprints, the theory goes. [Top 10 Star Mysteries]
“Studying these objects is exciting because it represents a completely new model of how stellar interiors can work,” study leader Emily Levesque, of the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.
“In these interiors we also have a new way of producing heavy elements in our universe,” she added. “You’ve heard that everything is made of ‘star stuff’ — inside these stars we might now have a new way to make some of it.”
And now Levesque and her team say they have probably found the first TZO — a star called HV 2112 in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that lies about 200,000 light-years away.
The researchers used the 6.5-meter Magellan Clay telescope in Chile to study the light emitted by HV 2112. They found the starlight to be highly enriched in rubidium, lithium and molybdenum, just as theory predicts for TZOs. (Normal red supergiants produce these elements as well, but not in such abundance, scientists said.)
The new data, while suggestive, do not represent a slam-dunk discovery for TZOs quite yet, researchers said.
“We could, of course, be wrong,” co-author Philip Massey, of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, said in a statement.
“There are some minor inconsistencies between some of the details of what we found and what theory predicts,” he added. “But the theoretical predictions are quite old, and there have been a lot of improvements in the theory since then. Hopefully our discovery will spur additional work on the theoretical side now.”
The find means a lot to Zytkow, who is a co-author of the new study.
“I am extremely happy that observational confirmation of our theoretical prediction has started to emerge,” said Zytkow, who is based at the University of Cambridge in England. “Since Kip Thorne and I proposed our models of stars with neutron cores, people were not able to disprove our work. If theory is sound, experimental confirmation shows up sooner or later. So it was a matter of identification of a promising group of stars, getting telescope time and proceeding with the project.”
The study has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.