SpaceJibe

March 29, 2011

NASA Spacecraft Snaps 1st Photo of Mercury from Orbit

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, Mercury, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 5:20 pm
NASA's Mercury Messenger probe captured this historic image of Mercury, the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the solar system's innermost planet. The photo was taken on Tuesday (March 29) at 5:20 am EDT. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University)

NASA's Mercury Messenger probe captured this historic image of Mercury, the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the solar system's innermost planet. The photo was taken on Tuesday (March 29) at 5:20 am EDT. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University)

This story was updated at 5:32 p.m. ET.

The first spacecraft ever to circle Mercury has beamed home the first-ever photo taken of the small rocky planet from orbit, showing a stark landscape peppered with craters.

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft snapped the new Mercury photo today (March 29) at 5:20 a.m. EDT (0920 GMT). The photo shows the stark gray landscape of southern Mercury, a view that is dominated by a huge impact crater. [See the first photo of Mercury from orbit]

“This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the solar system’s innermost planet,” Messenger mission scientists explained in a statement.

The new Mercury photo shows a region around the south pole of Mercury. A 53-mile (85-kilometer) wide crater called Debussy clearly stands out in the upper right of the image, with bright rays emanating from its center. [More photos of Mercury from Messenger]

A smaller crater called Matabei, which is 15 miles (24 km) wide and is known for its “unusual dark rays,” is also visible in the image to the west of the Debussy crater, mission managers explained.

The new Mercury photo was posted to the Messenger mission website managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is overseeing the flight for NASA.

The photo is the first of 363 snapshots Messenger took during six hours of observations around Mercury. The images are expected to cover previously unseen areas of Mercury, terrain that was missed by Messenger during three previous flybys before it entered orbit.

Messenger arrived at Mercury on March 17, more than 6 1/2 years after its launch from Earth.

The spacecraft paused in its Mercury photo reconnaissance work just long enough to beam the new images back to Earth, mission managers said.

“The Messenger team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down,” Messenger mission scientists said.

NASA plans to hold a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday to review the latest Mercury discoveries by the Messenger probe. The spacecraft’s name is short for the bulky moniker MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.

The $446 million Messenger probe is expected to spend at least one Earth year studying Mercury from orbit. The spacecraft is in an extremely elliptical orbit that brings it within 124 miles (200 kilometers) of Mercury at the closest point and retreats to more than 9,300 miles (15,000 km) away at the farthest point.

The primary science mission phase will begin on April 4, when Messenger will start mapping the entire surface of Mercury, a process that is expected to require around 75,000 images. Scientists hope the spacecraft will help answer longstanding mysteries over the planet’s geology, formation and history.

While Messenger is the first mission ever to orbit around Mercury, it is not the first spacecraft to visit the planet. NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft flew by the planet three times in the mid-1970s.

Source

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March 13, 2011

The gigantic underground moon cave

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, Moons, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 9:28 pm

Indian scientists have uncovered a cavern on the moon big enough to be a home base for human voyagers. Is this a game-changer for space exploration?

posted on March 2, 2011, at 12:37 PM
Indian scientists believe they have located an underground cave on the moon with a temperate climate that would make it an ideal base for future manned missions.India’s space agency announced it had discovered an enormous volcanic cave under the surface of the moon, in the midst of analyzing 3D images taken last year by the lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1. Thanks in large part to its stable climate, the cave could provide suitable housing for humans who want to further explore the moon. Here’s a brief guide to this groundbreaking discovery:

How big is this thing?
The cave, which was formed from “ancient volcanic lava flows,” is more than one mile long and 393 feet wide — big enough to “contain a small lunar city or a secret Nazi base with a few thousand UFOs,” says Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo. It’s far bigger than what was previously the largest-known hole on the moon, which is 213 feet across and 289 feet deep, and was discovered by the Japanese Space agency Jaxa in 2009.

Why is it so good for humans?
Its main attraction is a temperate climate. Temperatures on the moon swing wildly, from a maximum of 262 degrees Fahrenheit to a minimum of -292. The cave holds steady at a (relatively) comfortable -4, since the moon’s weather can’t penetrate its 40-foot-thick wall. It could also protect astronauts from “hazardous radiations, micro-meteoritic impacts,” and dust storms, according to paper published by the journal Current Science, as quoted by Silicon India.

So when are we moving in?
Though there has been a recent surge of interest in exploring the moon, “scientists caution that it would be unrealistic to expect any long-term habitation efforts within the next two decades,” says G.S. Mudur at the Indian newspaper The Telegraph. Some observers aren’t pleased with that assessment. “What’s the holdup?” says Adam Frucci at DVice. “Let’s get building! I want to visit a hotel in a moon base sometime in the next 20 years, please!”

March 7, 2011

STS-133 “Star Trek” Wakeup Call

Filed under: Cool, Hollywood, Space Exploration — bferrari @ 6:35 pm

William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series, provided a special message to the crew of space shuttle Discovery during the Flight Day 12 wakeup call.

http://cdn-akm.vmixcore.com/vmixcore/js?auto_play=0&cc_default_off=1&player_name=uvp&width=512&height=332&player_id=1aa0b90d7d31305a75d7fa03bc403f5a&t=a42f017d888c2aa7a6b5ee93f45cae3e

Last Flight for Discovery

Last Flight for Discovery

William Shatner as the ubiquitous Captain Kirk

William Shatner as the ubiquitous Captain Kirk

March 5, 2011

Secretive X-37B Space Plane Launches on New Mystery Mission

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Military, Moons, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 9:03 pm
Air Force's second X-37B robot space plane blasts off from Cape Canaveral

The Air Force's second X-37B robot space plane blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 5, 2011 to begin its secret Orbital Test Vehicle 2 mission. (United Launch Alliance)

After being delayed a day by bad weather, the U.S. Air Force’s second X-37B robotic space plane blasted off from Florida this afternoon (March 5) on a mystery mission shrouded in secrecy.

The unmanned X-37B mini-shuttle — known as Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) — took to the skies from Cape Canaveral at 5:46 p.m. EST (2246 GMT) today, tucked away in the nose cone atop a huge Atlas 5 rocket.

“Liftoff of the Atlas 5 rocket and the second experimental X-37B, America’s miniature military space shuttle,” the Air Force Space Command wrote in a Twitter post as the Atlas 5 streaked into the Florida skies.

The space plane was originally scheduled to launch yesterday, but cloudy, windy conditions scrubbed two attempts. And a technical glitch caused the X-37B to miss a launch window earlier this afternoon; a faulty valve had to be replaced in a last-minute repair.

The X-37B’s mission is classified, but Air Force officials have said the vehicle will be used to test out new spacecraft technologies. Shortly after launch, the mission went into a scheduled media blackout, with no futher public updates.

Today’s launch marks the start of the X-37B program’s second space mission. The Air Force’s other X-37B plane, known as OTV-1, returned to Earth in December 2010 after a similarly mysterious seven-month maiden mission. [Photos: First Flight of the X-37B Space Plane]

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is shown inside its payload fairing during encapsulation

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is shown inside its payload fairing during encapsulation at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla., ahead of a planned April 2010 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.(USAF)

Mysterious mini-shuttle

The X-37B spacecraft looks a bit like NASA’s space shuttles, only much smaller. The vehicle is about 29 feet long by 15 feet wide (8.8 by 4.5 meters), with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. By comparison, two entire X-37Bs could fit inside the payload bay of a space shuttle.

The space plane, built by Boeing for the U.S. military, can fly long, extended missions because of its solar array power system, which allows it to stay in orbit for up to nine months, Air Force officials have said. [Infographic: The X-37B Space Plane]

What exactly the vehicle does while circling the Earth for so long is a mystery, since the craft’s payloads and missions are classified. Partly as a result of the secrecy, some concern has been raised — particularly by Russia and China — that the X-37B is a space weapon of some sort.

But the Air Force has repeatedly denied that charge, claiming that the X-37B’s chief task is testing out new hardware for future satellites — instruments like sensors and guidance, control and navigation systems. And that’s likely to be the case, experts say.

“It gives the Air Force the ability to test-fly some of this hardware,” said Brian Weeden, a former Air Force orbital analyst who works as a technical adviser for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.

Weeden suspects the X-37B is testing gear for the National Reconnaissance Office, the intelligence agency that builds and operates the U.S.’s spy satellites. That would explain all the secrecy, he said.

X37-B Graphic

X-37B Graphic

Second mission for the X-37B

The Air Force’s other X-37B, known as OTV-1, launched last April and returned in December after spending 224 days in space. While its mission was also classified, technology-testing was OTV-1’s primary job, too, Air Force officials have said.

And things presumably went well, experts say, or the Air Force wouldn’t be launching the craft’s twin a few short months later.

While the X-37B is likely trying out new hardware, the vehicle itself is experimental — hence the “X” designation — so these flights should also help the Air Force assess the space plane as well as its payload.

“Part of its mission is to test out reusable technologies and to see how quickly they can turn around these vehicles and launch them again,” Weeden said.

Boeing’s Space and Intelligence Systems division builds the X-37B for the Air Force. Originally, NASA used the space plane as an experimental test bed until funding for the project ran out in 2004.

The vehicle then passed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and was ultimately turned over to the Air Force in 2006.

Gallery: Photos of the X-37B Space Plane

Source

March 4, 2011

Nanotechnology: New ‘Frozen Smoke’ May Improve Robotic Surgery, Energy Storage

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets — bferrari @ 11:05 pm
UCF associate professor Lei Zhai worked with fellow professors Saiful Khondaker, Sudipta Seal and Quanfang Chen.

UCF associate professor Lei Zhai worked with fellow professors Saiful Khondaker, Sudipta Seal and Quanfang Chen. (Jason Greene)

(Mar. 1, 2011) — A spongy substance that could be mistaken for packing material has the nanotechnology world buzzing. University of Central Florida Associate Professor Lei Zhai and postdoctoral associate Jianhua Zou have engineered the world’s lightest carbon material in such a way that it could be used to detect pollutants and toxic substances, improve robotic surgery techniques and store energy more efficiently.

The new material belongs to the family of the lightest solid, also known by its technical name of aerogel or its common nickname of “frozen smoke.”

Zhai’s team worked with UCF professors Saiful Khondaker, Sudipta Seal and Quanfang Chen to create multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) aerogel. Carbon nanotubes are so small that thousands fit on a single strand of human hair. And using the nanotubes instead of silica (major material in sand), the foundation for traditional aerogel, increases the materials’ practical use.

For the first time, even the tiniest pressure change can be detected and tracked. Strips of MWCNT aerogel could be used in robotic fingers and hands to make them super sensitive and give them the ability to distinguish between holding a power saw or a scalpel — a distinction necessary for use in surgery.

Because the nanotubes have a large surface area , great amounts of energy could be stored in the aerogel, increasing the capacity of lithium batteries or supercapacitors used to store energy generated from renewable resources such as wind and the sun.

Combining the larger surface area and improved electrical conductivity is also important in developing sensors that can detect toxins capable of invading the food or water supply. And the same technique can be used to develop equipment capable of detecting even trace amounts of explosives.

Nano Smoke, a bit like Aerogel

Nano Smoke, a bit like Aerogel

“This has many potential applications and could really open up new areas to explore that we haven’t even imagined yet,” Zhai said.

A report detailing Zhai’s work appears in the journal ACS Nano.

Source

March 3, 2011

Gargantuan Solar Prominence Captured on Film. Larger than 30 Earths.

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 5:44 pm

Watch the Amazing Short Movie!:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5483193591/

NASA image captured Feb. 24, 2011

To see an image showing the size of the prominence in comparison to the size of the Earth.

Gargantuan Solar flare, vs tiny size of the Earth

Gargantuan Solar flare, vs tiny size of the Earth

To view a high res still from this event go here: www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5483196119/

When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

March 2, 2011

Star Fields Turning (amazing video!)

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 12:35 am

Time-lapse of a whole night at the ALMA Array Operations Site (AOS), located at 5000 meters altitude on the Chajnantor plateau, in the II Region of Chile. As the Moon sets at the beginning of the night, three of the first ALMA antennas start tests as part of the ongoing Commissioning and Science Verification process. Because they are pointing at the same target in the sky at any moment, their movements are perfectly synchronized.

As the sky appears to rotate clockwise around the south celestial pole (roughly on the upper left edge of the video), the Milky Way goes down slowly, until it is lying almost horizontal before sunrise. The center of our galaxy becomes visible during the second half of the night as a yellowish bulge crossed by dark lanes in the center of the image, just above the antennas.

The flashes on the ground are the car lights of the guards patrolling at the AOS. ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array is the largest astronomical project in existence and is a truly global partnership between the scientific communities of East Asia, Europe and North America with Chile. ESO is the European partner in ALMA.

Watch another video taken at the same time and location from a different viewpoint:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GZkHUWBOuY

Awesome View of the International Space Station – [hi-res photo]

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Space Ships — bferrari @ 12:24 am

Click Here for the Super-Detailed Original

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