May 25, 2012

Dragon arrives at space station in historic 1st

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 2:40 pm

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The privately bankrolled Dragon capsule made a historic arrival at the International Space Station on Friday, triumphantly captured by astronauts wielding a giant robot arm.

SpaceX is the first private company to accomplish such a feat: a commercial cargo delivery into the cosmos.

“There’s so much that could have gone wrong and it went right,” said an elated Elon Musk, the billionaire maestro of SpaceX.

“This really is, I think, going to be recognized as a significantly historical step forward in space travel — and hopefully the first of many to come.”

NASA astronaut Donald Pettit used the space station’s 58-foot robot arm to snare the gleaming white Dragon after a few hours of extra checks and maneuvers. The two vessels came together while sailing above Australia.

“Looks like we’ve got us a dragon by the tail,” Pettit announced from 250 miles up once he locked onto Dragon’s docking mechanism.

NASA controllers applauded as their counterparts at SpaceX’s control center in Hawthorne, Calif. — including Musk — lifted their arms in triumph and jumped out of their seats to exchange high fives. The two control rooms worked together, as equal partners, to pull off the feat.
The company’s youthful-looking employees — the average age is 30 — were still in a frenzy when Musk took part in a televised news conference. They screamed with excitement as if it were at a pep rally and chanted, “E-lon, E-lon, E-lon,” as the 40-year-old Musk, wearing a black athletic jacket with the SpaceX logo, described the day’s events.

Alcohol was banned from the premises during the crucial flight operation, Musk noted, “but now that things are good, I think we’ll probably have a bit of champagne and have some fun.” The crowd roared in approval.

Although cargo hauls have become routine, Friday’s linkup was significant in that an individual company pulled it off. That chore was previously reserved for a small, elite group of government agencies.

Not only that, the reusable SpaceX Dragon is designed to safely return items, a huge benefit that disappeared with NASA’s space shuttles. It’s the first U.S. craft to visit the station since the final shuttle flight last summer.

Two hours after the capture, the crew attached the Dragon to the space station as the congratulations poured in.

“Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial opportunities in space — and new job creation opportunities right here in the U.S.,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

“Nearly 43 years after we first walked on the moon, we have taken another step in demonstrating continued American leadership in space,” said Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step onto the moon.

The bell-shaped capsule— 19 feet tall and 12 feet across — is carrying 1,000 pounds of supplies on this unprecedented test flight. The crew starts unpacking Saturday and will have just under a week to unload the food, clothes and other contents.

After this test flight, SpaceX — officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — has a contract to make a dozen delivery runs. It is one of several companies vying for NASA’s cargo business and a chance to launch Americans from U.S. soil.

SpaceX launched the capsule from Cape Canaveral on Tuesday with its Falcon 9 rocket. On Thursday, the Dragon capsule came within 1½ miles of the space station in a practice fly-by. It returned to the neighborhood early Friday so Pettit, along with Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers could capture it with the station’s robot arm.

First, the capsule went through a series of stop-and-go demonstrations to prove it was under good operating control.

NASA ordered extra checks of the Dragon’s imaging systems as the capsule drew ever closer to the space station, putting the entire operation slightly behind schedule. At one point, SpaceX controllers ordered a retreat because of a problem with on-board tracking sensors.

Given that the Dragon is a brand new type of vehicle and this is a test flight, the space agency insisted on proceeding cautiously. A collision by vehicles traveling at orbital speed — 17,500 mph — could prove disastrous for the space station. NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, said the way the SpaceX team handled the problem and the entire operation was “remarkable.”

President Barack Obama is pushing commercial ventures in orbit so NASA can concentrate on grander destinations like asteroids and Mars. Obama’s chief scientific adviser, John Holdren, called Friday’s linkup “an achievement of historic scientific and technological significance.”
“It’s essential we maintain such competition and fully support this burgeoning and capable industry to get U.S. astronauts back on American launch vehicles as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

Without the shuttle, NASA astronauts must go through Russia, an expensive and embarrassing situation for the U.S. after a half-century of orbital self-sufficiency. Once companies master supply runs, they hope to tackle astronaut ferry runs.

Musk, who founded SpaceX a decade ago and helped create PayPal, said he can have astronauts riding his Dragon capsules to orbit in three or four years.

The space station has been relying on Russian, Japanese and European cargo ships for supplies ever since the shuttles retired. None of those, however, can bring anything of value back; they’re simply loaded with trash and burn up in the atmosphere.

By contrast, the Dragon is designed to safely re-enter the atmosphere, parachuting into the ocean like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules did back in the 1960s. Assuming all goes well Friday, the space station’s six-man crew will release the Dragon next Thursday after filling it with science experiments and equipment.

Going into Tuesday’s launch of this Dragon, NASA had contributed $381 million to SpaceX in seed money. The company has invested more than $1 billion in this commercial effort over the past 10 years.


May 24, 2012

Legendary moonwalker Neil Armstrong narrates his own moon landing

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, Military, Moons, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 2:29 pm
Neil Armstrong, as NASA astronaut (NASA)

Neil Armstrong, as NASA astronaut (NASA)

In a four part interview with Neil Armstrong, the man who stopped the world back in 1969 with his historic walk on the moon, Armstrong talked through those final knuckle-whitening minutes when he realized Eagle’s auto-pilot was trying to set them amongst a minefield of slopes and boulders on the lunar surface.

“Those slopes are steep, the rocks are very large — the size of automobiles,” he told Alex Malley, CEO of accounting firm CPA Australia, narrating over a Google Moon version of the landing.

“It’s certainly not a place where I want to land, so I took over manually from the computer, the auto-pilot. Like a helicopter, on out to the west, to try to find a smoother, more level landing spot.”
Footage shows Commander Armstrong spots a smooth spot other side of crater.
“I’m running low on fuel. I’ve got less than two minutes of fuel,” he told Malley.
The actual footage shows Eagle’s rocket engine starting to kick up moon dust. Then a 30-second fuel warning pings.
“I need to get it down here on the ground pretty soon, before we run out,” Armstrong said.
Then a light thump, followed by the immortal words: “Tranquility to base here. The Eagle has landed.”
The interview with the first man to step foot on the moon aired over the past week on Australian television on the CPA Australia-sponsored show “The Bottom Line.” Armstrong is just as famous for his reluctance to talk about his experience, having given the barest handful of television interviews since that landmark day in 1969.

So how did Australian accountants get to shoot the breeze in a 40-minute one-on-one with one of the most in-demand, yet seldom heard heroes of modern history, Neil Armstrong?

Malley knew something that a lot of people didn’t know about Neil Armstrong, he said: “His dad was an auditor.”

The interview is as much a tribute to Malley’s desire to make it happen as it is to the man who stopped the world back in 1969.

“When I raised the issue of approaching Neil and speaking with him, it became immediately clear how many people thought it couldn’t be done,” Malley told “I very much feel my form of leadership is to show people you can do things. CPA Australia talking to Neil Armstrong, I think should be a clear message that anyone to do it.”

I know that one day somebody’s going to fly back up there and pick up that camera I left there.

— Neil Armstrong

“The most compelling thing I felt about him was his humility — his commitment to his team, his deference to everyone except himself, his respect for the Russians — I found that quite extraordinary.”

Even at the age of 82, he’s not comfortable in the public spotlight. Last year, his nerves were painfully obvious as he presented an Apollo enthusiast’s recreation of the moon landing using Google Moon images to a U.S. House Committee on Space, Science and Technology.

He’s far more relaxed talking Malley through it live. In fact, Commander Armstrong’s ease and openness has been a noteworthy feature of the hour-long interview.

A CPA Australia spokesman said the response to the series has been overwhelming and “growing by the day.”

“We’ve received an extraordinary amount of feedback … even [from] a number of Neil’s close friends and colleagues who were really pleased to see how relaxed he was in sharing his story publically,” he said.

In the past four weeks, Armstrong has spoke at length about his days in the Air Force, U.S. Government policy, leadership, success and the deaths of former comrades.

He wound up his final interview by tackling the most controversial issue (yes, Malley went there): Was the moon landing faked?

Armstrong answers with a chuckle.

“People love conspiracy theories,” he said.

“They’re very attractive, but they were never a concern to me — because I know that one day somebody’s going to fly back up there and pick up that camera I left there.”


May 22, 2012

SpaceX commercial rocket blasts off for International Space Station

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Space Ships — bferrari @ 5:06 pm
SpaceX Rocket blasts off with Dragon capsule on top

SpaceX Rocket blasts off with Dragon capsule on top

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – A first-of-its-kind commercial supply ship rocketed toward the International Space Station following a successful liftoff early Tuesday, opening a new era of dollar-driven spaceflight.

The SpaceX company made history as its Falcon 9 rocket rose from its seaside launch pad and pierced the pre-dawn sky, aiming for a rendezvous in a few days with the space station. The unmanned rocket carried into orbit a capsule named Dragon that is packed with 1,000 pounds of space station provisions.

It is the first time a private company has launched a vessel to the space station. Before, that was something only major governments had done.

“Falcon flew perfectly!!” SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said via Twitter. “Dragon in orbit … Feels like a giant weight just came off my back.”

‘Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting.’

– John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser

Musk later told reporters: “I feel very lucky … For us, it’s like winning the Super Bowl.”

This time, the Falcon’s nine engines kept firing all the way through liftoff. On Saturday, flight computers aborted the launch with a half-second remaining in the countdown; a bad engine valve was replaced.

The White House quickly offered congratulations.

“Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting,” said John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser. “This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best — tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit.”

Flight controllers applauded when the Dragon reached orbit nine minutes into the flight, then embraced one another once the solar panels on the spacecraft popped open. Many of the SpaceX controllers wore untucked T-shirts and jeans or even shorts, a stark contrast to NASA’s old suit-and-tie shuttle crowd.

The hopes of SpaceX employees were riding on that rocket, Musk noted, and everyone felt “tremendous elation.”

So did NASA.

The space agency is banking on the switch from government to commercial cargo providers in the U.S., now that the shuttles no longer are flying. Astronauts could begin taking commercial rides to the space station in three to five years, if all goes well.

“The significance of this day cannot be overstated,” said a beaming NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “It’s a great day for America. It’s actually a great day for the world because there are people who thought that we had gone away, and today says, `No, we’re not going away at all.”‘

The real test comes Thursday when the Dragon reaches the vicinity of the space station. It will undergo practice maneuvers from more than a mile out. If all goes well, the docking will occur Friday. Musk will preside over the operation from the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., where he monitored the liftoff.
The space station was zooming over the North Atlantic, just east of Newfoundland, when the Falcon took flight.

NASA is looking to the private sector to take over orbital trips in this post-shuttle period and several U.S. companies are vying for the opportunity. The goal is to get American astronauts launching again from U.S. soil — creating jobs at home and halting the outsourcing, as Bolden put it.

Until their retirement last summer to museums, NASA’s shuttles provided the bulk of space station equipment and even the occasional crew member. American astronauts are riding Russian rockets to orbit until SpaceX or one of its competitors takes over the job. Russia also is making periodic cargo hauls, along with Europe and Japan.

Musk, a co-creator of PayPal, founded SpaceX a decade ago. He’s poured millions of his own money into the company, and NASA has contributed $381 million as seed money. In all, the company has spent more than $1 billion on the effort.

Hundreds of SpaceX and NASA guests poured into the launching area in the early morning hours Tuesday, eager to see firsthand the start of this new commercial era. The company had a single second to get its rocket flying, and that’s all it needed.
Everyone, it seemed, was rooting for a successful flight — even Musk’s rivals.

“The shuttle may be retired, but the American dream of space exploration is alive and well,” said Mark Sirangelo, chairman of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s space systems, which is developing a mini-shuttle to carry space station crews in another few years.

The six space station astronauts were especially enthusiastic. The crew beamed down a picture on the eve of the launch, showing the two who will use a robot arm to snare the Dragon.

In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and retrieve it. That test flight of a Dragon capsule paved the way for this mission, which also is meant to culminate with a splashdown of the capsule in the Pacific.

This newest capsule is supposed to remain at the space station for a week before bringing back experiments and equipment. None of the other types of current cargo ships can return safely; they burn up on the way down.

SpaceX and NASA officials stress this is a demonstration flight and that even if something goes wrong, much can be learned. Two more Dragon supply missions are planned this year, regardless of what happens during this week’s rendezvous.

While acknowledging the difficult course ahead in the next few days, Musk and NASA officials savored Tuesday’s triumph.

“I would really count today as a success, no matter what happens the rest of the mission,” Musk said.

Musk, 40, is the chief executive officer and chief designer for SpaceX. He also runs Tesla Motors, his electric car company.

Hitching a ride into space, aboard the discarded second stage of the rocket, were the ashes of more than 300 people, including Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and “Star Trek” actor James Doohan, who played Scotty. It’s a redo flight for a paying customer, Houston-based Celestis Inc. The Falcon 1 that carried the first batch of their ashes failed in 2008.


Alien hunter retires after 35-year quest for E.T.

Filed under: Cosmology, Extraterrestrial Life, Life — bferrari @ 5:00 pm
Jill Tarter, the alien-hunting model for Jodie Foster's character in the movie "Contact," is retiring after 35 years of searching the skies. (SETI)

Jill Tarter, the alien-hunting model for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie “Contact,” is retiring after 35 years of searching the skies. (SETI)

Jodie Foster may have seen proof of alien lands in the 1997 Robert Zemeckis film “Contact,” but the real life astronomer the filmmakers based their sci-fi odyssey on didn’t find so much as a tentacle.

And after 35 years of fruitless hunting, director of SETI Research Jill Tarter is giving up the quest — but she’s not giving up hope. After all, life abounds in the strangest places, she told

“We find it in boiling battery acid, at the bottom of the ocean where there’s huge pressure, there are microbes that make their living where the sun doesn’t shine — and they’re quite happy there,” Tarter said. And life out there would tell us a lot about back here.

“Think about it. If we detect a signal, we could learn about THEIR past (because of the time their signal took to reach us) and the possibility of OUR future,” Tarter said.

‘The universe looks more and more biofriendly.’
– astronomer Jill Tarter

Besides, the quest hasn’t been entirely in vain: In fact, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has made tremendous leaps in the past few years, notably with the advent of the Kepler Space Telescope, which in recent months discovered two dozen alien planets and thousands of potential planets in the nearby skies.

“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates.”

Each of those are great places to look for the telltale signs of little green men: biosignatures.

“Do a chemical assay, look and see whether that [planet’s] chemical signature is out of equilibrium — as it is here on Earth,” she told Thanks to the life teeming on our spinning blue orb, the planet’s ordinary biorhythm is slightly off-kilter.

“We have such a strong biological force function on the surface of the planet — from microbes and biological life — that it throws off the planet’s atmosphere,” she said.

Such an effect is something scientists should be able to perceive, even on a planet light-years away, although doing so will take a whole lot of technology that we may not even have yet.

“The universe looks more and more biofriendly. It’s looking more habitable. It’s exciting,” she told

And so the quest will go on — without Tarter.

After 35 years of searching the skies for signs of intelligence beyond Earth, Tarter is turning over the research reins to new leadership at the non-profit SETI Institute and assuming a new role: chief fundraiser.

“I want to make the endowment of SETI research a success, so that my colleagues now, and in the future, can focus on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence for all of us.”

Chief among the fundraising efforts is the upcoming SETIcon II, held June 22-24 at the Santa Clara Hyatt in California.

SETIcon is a unique event bringing together science and science fiction, artists and biologists, the curious and the content creators, to discuss the intersection of science, technology and imagination.

At the last such event, held August 13 – 15, 2010, more than 1,000 enthusiasts met astronauts and scientists to discuss the quest for life.

Hopefully the event will raise money for the SETI Institute, which Tarter said requires $2 million per year to run — a pittance for a program that could have such potential ramifications.

“It will impact everyone on the planet, so the whole planet should be supporting this.”

“Columbus didn’t wait for a 747 — he got across the Atlantic in a leaky wooden boat. The tools we have may be adequate to the job,” she said.


Secret Air Force X-37B space plane mission a ‘spectacular success’

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 4:55 pm
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center image shows on-orbit functions for the reusable X-37 space plane, now under the wing of the U.S. Air Force. (NASA/MSFC)

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center image shows on-orbit functions for the reusable X-37 space plane, now under the wing of the U.S. Air Force. (NASA/MSFC)

The U.S. Air Force’s secretive robotic X-37B space plane mission continues to chalk up time in Earth orbit, nearing 430 days of a spaceflight that — while classified — appears to be an unqualified success.

The space plane now circuiting Earth is the second spacecraft of its kind built for the Air Force by Boeing’s Phantom Works. Known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2, the space plane’s classified mission is being carried out by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The robotic X-37B space plane is a reusable spacecraft that resembles a miniature space shuttle.

The Air Force launched the OTV-2 mission on March 5, 2011, with an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket lofting the space plane into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Spectacular success

General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, briefly saluted the high-flying X-37B space plane on April 17 during his remarks at the 28th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Our second X-37 test vehicle has been on orbit for 409 days now” — much longer than the 270 day baseline design specifications, Shelton said. “Although I can’t talk about mission specifics, suffice it to say this mission has been a spectacular success,” he added.

In a follow-up meeting with reporters, Shelton told “It’s doing wonderful.” When asked specifically about when the craft will be brought back down to Earth, Shelton’s response was guarded.

“When we’re through with it … it’s going great,” Shelton said.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Tracy Bunko, the Pentagon’s spokesperson for the X-37B project, told that the space plane’s current mission “is still on track … and still ongoing.”

Bunko said that a third flight of an X-37B spacecraft — slated for liftoff this fall — will use the same craft that flew the first test flight, the OTV-1 mission, back in 2010. That maiden voyage of the X-37B space plane lasted 225 days. It launched into orbit on April 22, 2010, and then landed on Dec. 3, zooming in on autopilot over the Pacific Ocean and gliding down onto a specially prepared runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Return on investment

Each X-37B space plane is about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide. It has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed and is outfitted with a deployable solar array power system.

What isn’t known about these space vehicles is the nature of the payloads they carry. What purposes they serve is classified.

Last March in a Washington, D.C., briefing with reporters, Shelton advised that the winged, reusable robot plane is a vehicle the U.S. Air Force wants to keep using. But there is currently no go-ahead to add space planes (beyond the two already built) that would increase the fleet size, he said.

When the second X-37B cruised by its one-year milestone in orbit in March, Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office lauded the spacecraft’s endurance run.

“We are very pleased with the results of ongoing X-37B experiments. The X-37B program is setting the standard for a reusable space plane and, on this one-year orbital milestone, has returned great value on the experimental investment,” McIntyre said.

“Upon completion of all objectives, we look forward to bringing the mission to a safe, successful conclusion.”

Skywatchers on alert

According to Ted Molczan, a Toronto-based leader in a network of amateur skywatchers that keep an eye on the whereabouts of spacecraft, the X-37B/OTV-2 has maintained its orbit since mid-August of last year.

Last observed on April 22 by fellow skywatcher Greg Roberts of South Africa, the craft was in a 42.8 degree, 332 kilometer by 341 kilometer orbit, Molczan told

“It makes frequent small maneuvers to maintain that altitude against the significant atmospheric drag that is present. That orbit causes its ground track to repeat nearly precisely every two days,” Molczan added.

“Ground tracks that repeat at intervals of two, three, or four days, have long been favored for U.S. imagery intelligence satellites, so this may be a clue to the mission of OTV-2,” Molczan said.

Scaled-up X-37B space planes planned?

An intriguing sidelight to the X-37 program is whether or not Boeing’s Phantom Works is keen on using the spacecraft for other, nonmilitary missions, or even upgrading the X-37 space plane concept for human spaceflight.

Last year at Space 2011, a conference organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), an X-37B derivatives plan was sketched out by Arthur Grantz, chief engineer, Experimental Systems Group at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems (S&IS) in Seal Beach, Calif.

Grantz detailed a vision for the spacecraft and scaled-up versions to support space station cargo deliveries and even carry astronauts into orbit.

At the one-year milestone of the now orbiting X-37B, contacted Boeing for more information on Grantz and his view on use of X-37B evolving to support the International Space Station.

“That AIAA presentation was a one-time event and we are not saying anything more publicly about the X-37B,” said Diana Ball of Boeing’s S&IS Communications in a response to “Sorry we cannot help you out this time.”


May 18, 2012

Every black hole contains a new universe

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Cosmology, Supernova, Wierd — bferrari @ 5:06 pm
Do we live in a black hole? (ESA / V. Beckmann (NASA-GSFC))

Do we live in a black hole? (ESA / V. Beckmann (NASA-GSFC))

Our universe may exist inside a black hole. This may sound strange, but it could actually be the best explanation of how the universe began, and what we observe today. It’s a theory that has been explored over the past few decades by a small group of physicists including myself.
Successful as it is, there are notable unsolved questions with the standard big bang theory, which suggests that the universe began as a seemingly impossible “singularity,” an infinitely small point containing an infinitely high concentration of matter, expanding in size to what we observe today. The theory of inflation, a super-fast expansion of space proposed in recent decades, fills in many important details, such as why slight lumps in the concentration of matter in the early universe coalesced into large celestial bodies such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies.
But these theories leave major questions unresolved. For example: What started the big bang? What caused inflation to end? What is the source of the mysterious dark energy that is apparently causing the universe to speed up its expansion?
The idea that our universe is entirely contained within a black hole provides answers to these problems and many more. It eliminates the notion of physically impossible singularities in our universe. And it draws upon two central theories in physics.
The first is general relativity, the modern theory of gravity. It describes the universe at the largest scales. Any event in the universe occurs as a point in space and time, or spacetime. A massive object such as the Sun distorts or “curves” spacetime, like a bowling ball sitting on a canvas. The Sun’s gravitational dent alters the motion of Earth and the other planets orbiting it. The sun’s pull of the planets appears to us as the force of gravity.
The second is quantum mechanics, which describes the universe at the smallest scales, such as the level of the atom. However, quantum mechanics and general relativity are currently separate theories; physicists have been striving to combine the two successfully into a single theory of “quantum gravity” to adequately describe important phenomena, including the behavior of subatomic particles in black holes.
A 1960s adaptation of general relativity, called the Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble theory of gravity, takes into account effects from quantum mechanics. It not only provides a step towards quantum gravity but also leads to an alternative picture of the universe. This variation of general relativity incorporates an important quantum property known as spin. Particles such as atoms and electrons possess spin, or the internal angular momentum that is analogous to a skater spinning on ice.
In this picture, spins in particles interact with spacetime and endow it with a property called “torsion.” To understand torsion, imagine spacetime not as a two-dimensional canvas, but as a flexible, one-dimensional rod. Bending the rod corresponds to curving spacetime, and twisting the rod corresponds to spacetime torsion. If a rod is thin, you can bend it, but it’s hard to see if it’s twisted or not.
Spacetime torsion would only be significant, let alone noticeable, in the early universe or in black holes. In these extreme environments, spacetime torsion would manifest itself as a repulsive force that counters the attractive gravitational force coming from spacetime curvature. As in the standard version of general relativity, very massive stars end up collapsing into black holes: regions of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.
Here is how torsion would play out in the beginning moments of our universe. Initially, the gravitational attraction from curved space would overcome torsion’s repulsive forces, serving to collapse matter into smaller regions of space. But eventually torsion would become very strong and prevent matter from compressing into a point of infinite density; matter would reach a state of extremely large but finite density. As energy can be converted into mass, the immensely high gravitational energy in this extremely dense state would cause an intense production of particles, greatly increasing the mass inside the black hole.
The increasing numbers of particles with spin would result in higher levels of spacetime torsion. The repulsive torsion would stop the collapse and would create a “big bounce” like a compressed beach ball that snaps outward. The rapid recoil after such a big bounce could be what has led to our expanding universe. The result of this recoil matches observations of the universe’s shape, geometry, and distribution of mass.
In turn, the torsion mechanism suggests an astonishing scenario: every black hole would produce a new, baby universe inside. If that is true, then the first matter in our universe came from somewhere else. So our own universe could be the interior of a black hole existing in another universe. Just as we cannot see what is going on inside black holes in the cosmos, any observers in the parent universe could not see what is going on in ours.
The motion of matter through the black hole’s boundary, called an “event horizon,” would only happen in one direction, providing a direction of time that we perceive as moving forward. The arrow of time in our universe would therefore be inherited, through torsion, from the parent universe.
Torsion could also explain the observed imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe. Because of torsion, matter would decay into familiar electrons and quarks, and antimatter would decay into “dark matter,” a mysterious invisible form of matter that appears to account for a majority of matter in the universe.
Finally, torsion could be the source of “dark energy,” a mysterious form of energy that permeates all of space and increases the rate of expansion of the universe. Geometry with torsion naturally produces a “cosmological constant,” a sort of added-on outward force which is the simplest way to explain dark energy. Thus, the observed accelerating expansion of the universe may end up being the strongest evidence for torsion.

Torsion therefore provides a theoretical foundation for a scenario in which the interior of every black hole becomes a new universe. It also appears as a remedy to several major problems of current theory of gravity and cosmology. Physicists still need to combine the Einstein-Cartan-Sciama-Kibble theory fully with quantum mechanics into a quantum theory of gravity. While resolving some major questions, it raises new ones of its own. For example, what do we know about the parent universe and the black hole inside which our own universe resides? How many layers of parent universes would we have? How can we test that our universe lives in a black hole?

The last question can potentially be investigated: since all stars and thus black holes rotate, our universe would have inherited the parent black hole’s axis of rotation as a “preferred direction.”

There is some recently reported evidence from surveys of over 15,000 galaxies that in one hemisphere of the universe more spiral galaxies are “left-handed”, or rotating clockwise, while in the other hemisphere more are “right-handed”, or rotating counterclockwise. In any case, I believe that including torsion in geometry of spacetime is a right step towards a successful theory of cosmology.

Record Nine-Planet Star System Discovered?

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Life — bferrari @ 5:02 pm
An artist's conception of the planetary system around HD 10180. (L. Calçada, European Southern Observatory)

An artist’s conception of the planetary system around HD 10180. (L. Calçada, European Southern Observatory)

A star about 127 light-years from Earth may have even more planets than the sun, which would make the planetary system the most populated yet found.

According to a new study, HD 10180—a sunlike star in the southern constellation Hydrus—may have as many as nine orbiting planets, besting the eight official planets in our solar system.

The star first made headlines in 2010 with the announcement of five confirmed planets and two more planetary candidates.

Now, reanalysis of nearly a decade’s worth of data has not only confirmed the existence of the two possible planets but also uncovered the telltale signals of two additional planets possibly circling the star, bringing the total to nine.

“There certainly is, according to my results, strong evidence that this is the most populous planetary system detected—possibly even richer than the solar system,” said study leader Mikko Tuomi, an astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K.

“But the two new planetary signals I report exceed the detection threshold only just.”

Early indications are that both newly detected worlds are super-Earths—planets slightly larger than Earth with rocky surfaces—but more measurements will be needed to confirm their existence.

Scorching Super-Earths

The planetary system around HD 10180 is too far from Earth for us to see directly. (Related: “First Pictures of Alien Planet System Revealed.”)

Instead, astronomers detected the planets by measuring their gravitational tugs on the host star using the High Accuracy Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile.

The five established planets are between 12 and 25 times the mass of Earth and are all around the sizes of Uranus or Neptune, meaning the worlds are most likely icy gas giants.

Of the two newly confirmed planets, one is about 65 times the mass of Earth, and it orbits farther beyond the main group. The other planet is a super-Earth 1.3 times the mass of our home world that circles very close to the host star.

(Related: “New Planet System Found—May Have Hidden ‘Super Earth’.”)

The two new, unconfirmed planets also have tight orbits: A planet thought to be 1.9 times the mass of Earth completes its orbit in 10 days, while the other world is likely 5.1 Earth masses with an orbit lasting 68 days.

That means, if the planets do exist, they’d be unlikely candidates to host life.

“They are likely hot planets without dense, gaseous atmospheres, because they are just so close to their star,” Tuomi said.

The astronomer now hopes to take more measurements and verify the planets are really there.

Tuomi also hopes to scan the skies for other crowded planetary systems like HD 10180. (Also see “‘Solar Systems’ Common Across the Galaxy, NASA Probe Hints.”)

“We have only just started to detect planets, and the known exoplanet systems are but a tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“So [our] solar system is only one example among a spectrum of different planetary systems we will find in the near future and [is] definitely not unique.”

The new research on the HD 10180 planetary system appears online this week on the website and has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.


The United States Once Planned On Nuking the Moon

Did you know that the United States once planned on shooting a nuclear bomb at the moon.

If you presumed that the reasoning behind such an act was “because we can”, you are absolutely correct. That is exactly why the U.S. wanted to do it, in order to one-up the Soviet Union, who were perceived as leading the space race at the time.

The project was labeled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” or “Project A119″ and was developed by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s. It was felt that this would be a relatively easy thing to do and would also boost public perception of how the U.S. was doing in comparison to the Soviet Union in terms of the space race.

According to one of the leaders of the project, physicist Leonard Reiffel, hitting the moon with an intercontinental ballistic missile would have been relatively easy to accomplish, including hitting the target with an accuracy of about two miles. This accuracy would have been particularly important as the Air Force wanted the resulting explosion to be clearly visible from Earth. As such, it was proposed that the explosion happen on the border of the visible part of the moon, so that the resulting cloud would be clearly visible, being illuminated by the sun.

The project was eventually scrapped as it was felt that the public would not respond favorably to the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon.

One can only imagine the conversation that would have had to take place to convince the Soviet Union of the U.S.’s peaceful intent with the launch of that missile:

United States: “Hey Soviet Union, don’t worry about that intercontinental missile we just fired that has a nuclear warhead attached. I swear, it’s aimed at the moon.”
Soviet Union: “Why would you shoot a nuclear missile at the moon?”
United States: “…”
Soviet Union: “???”
United States: “You know… BOOM… but in space.”
Bonus Factoids:

A young Carl Sagan was one of the scientists hired by Reiffel for this project. Specifically, Sagan was hired to study how exactly the mushroom cloud would expand on the moon, so that they could make sure it would be clearly visible from Earth, which was the whole point of the project.
Sagan felt that the project also had scientific merit in that the cloud itself could be closely examined for possible organic material.
Sagan breached national security just one year after he was hired (1959) when he revealed aspects of the project when applying for the Berkeley Miller Institute graduate fellowship. Details of this were not brought to light until a biographer, Keay Davidson, uncovered this information when doing research for a biography on Carl Sagan after Sagan’s death in 1996.
The Miller Research Fellowship is a program provided by Berkeley to help some of the world’s most promising young scientists launch their careers. Winners are given a three year appointment where they are mentored by Berkeley’s faculty and are allowed to use the university’s facilities for their research, among other benefits.
Around 400 people have been made Miller Fellows since 1960 and there have been over 1000 scientists who have been supported through the program. Among this very prestigious group are six Fields Medalists and seven Nobel Prize winners.
Carl Sagan was one of the first “Miller Fellows” inducted. His three year term began in 1960 when the Fellowship was created.


Extent of Human Radio Broadcasts / The Tiny Humanity Bubble

Filed under: Cool, Space Exploration, Wierd — bferrari @ 4:26 pm

Mankind has been broadcasting radio waves into deep space for about a hundred years now — since the days of Marconi.

That, of course, means there is an ever-expanding bubble announcing Humanity’s presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way. This bubble is astronomically large (literally), and currently spans approximately 200 light years across. But how big is this, really, compared to the size of the Galaxy in which we live (which is, itself, just one of countless billions of galaxies in the observable universe)?

To answer that question, Adam put together the following diagram of our galaxy with the “Humanity Bubble”.


May 12, 2012

Obama: ‘Sometimes I Forget’ Magnitude of the Recession

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 1:55 pm

“It was a house of cards and it collapsed in the most destructive, worst crisis that we’ve seen since the Great Depression,” Obama said. “And sometimes people forget the magnitude of it. You know, you saw some of that in the video that was shown. Sometimes I forget.”

Mitt Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul, responds: “It’s not surprising that a president who forgot to create jobs, forgot to cut the debt, and forgot to change Washington has now admitted that he’s forgotten about the recession. In fact, it seems that the President has forgotten that he’s been in office for the last three-and-a-half years. In November, the American people won’t forget.”

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