April 14, 2017

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus Shows More Signs It Could Support Alien Life

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Life, Moon, Saturn — bferrari @ 9:07 am

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is looking more and more like a habitable world.

The same sorts of chemical reactions that sustain life near deep-sea hydrothermal vents here on Earth could potentially be occurring within Enceladus’ subsurface ocean, a new study published today (April 13) in the journal Science suggests.

These reactions depend on the presence of molecular hydrogen (H2), which, the new study reports, is likely being produced continuously by reactions between hot water and rock deep down in Enceladus’ sea.

Related: Photos of Enceladus, Saturn’s Geyser-Blasting Moon

“The abundance of H2, along with previously observed carbonate species, suggests a state of chemical disequilibria in the Enceladus ocean that represents a chemical energy source capable of supporting life,” Jeffrey Seewald, of the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, wrote in an accompanying “Perspectives” piece in the same issue of Science. (Seewald was not involved in the new Enceladus study.)

A Geyser-Blasting Ocean World

The 313-mile-wide (504 kilometers) Enceladus is just Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, but the object has loomed large in the minds of astrobiologists since 2005.

In that year, NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft first spotted geysers of water ice erupting from “tiger stripe” fissures near Enceladus’ south pole. Scientists think these geysers are blasting material from a sizeable ocean buried beneath the satellite’s ice shell.

So, Enceladus has liquid water, one of the key ingredients required for life as we know it. (This ocean stays liquid because Saturn’s immense gravitational pull twists and stretches the moon, generating internal “tidal” heat.) And the new study suggests that the satellite possesses another key ingredient as well: an energy source.


A team of researchers led by Hunter Waite, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, analyzed observations made by Cassini during an October 2015 dive through Enceladus’ geyser plume.

This plunge was special in several ways. For one thing, it was Cassini’s deepest-ever dive through the plume; the probe got within a mere 30 miles (49 km) of Enceladus’ surface. In addition, Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument alternated between “open-source” and “closed-source” modes during the encounter, rather than sticking to closed source (the usual routine).

INMS is just 0.25 percent as sensitive in open-source mode as it is in closed-source mode, Waite and his colleagues wrote in the new Science paper. But open source has a key advantage: It minimizes artifacts that have complicated previous attempts to measure H2 levels in the plume.

With this analytical hurdle cleared, Waite and his team were able to calculate that H2 makes up between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent of the volume of Enceladus’ geyser plume. Further calculations revealed that carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up an additional 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent of the plume’s volume.

Related: Inside Enceladus, Icy Moon of Saturn (Infographic)

The molecular hydrogen is most likely being produced continuously by reactions between hot water and rock in and around Enceladus’ core, Waite and his colleagues concluded. They considered other possible explanations and found them wanting. For example, neither Enceladus’ ocean nor its ice shell are viable long-term reservoirs for volatile H2, the authors wrote, and processes that disassociate H2 from water ice in the shell don’t seem capable of generating the volume measured in the plume.

The hydrothermal explanation is also consistent with a 2016 study by another research group, which concluded that tiny silica grains detected by Cassini could have been produced only in hot water at significant depths.

“The story seems to be fitting together,” Chris Glein of SwRI, a co-author of the new Science paper, told

Deep-Sea Chemical Reactions

Earth’s deep-sea hydrothermal vents support rich communities of life, ecosystems powered by chemical energy rather than sunlight.

“Some of the most primitive metabolic pathways utilized by microbes in these environments involve the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) with H2 to form methane (CH4) by a process known as methanogenesis,” Seewald wrote.

The inferred presence of H2 and CO2 in Enceladus’ ocean therefore suggests that similar reactions could well be occurring deep beneath the moon’s icy shell. Indeed, the observed H2 levels indicate that a lot of chemical energy is potentially available in the ocean, Glein said.

“It’s quite a bit larger than the minimum energy required to support methanogenesis,” he said.

Glein stressed, however, that nobody knows whether such reactions are actually occurring on Enceladus.

“This is not a detection of life,” Glein said. “It increases the habitability, but I would never suggest that this makes Enceladus more or less likely to have life itself. I think the only way to answer that question is, we need data.”

Seewald also counseled caution on astrobiological interpretations. He noted, for example, that molecular hydrogen is rare in Earth’s seawater, because hungry microbes quickly gobble it up.

“Is the presence of H2 in the Enceladus ocean an indicator for the absence of life, or is it a reflection of the very different geochemical environment and associated ecosystems on Enceladus?” Seewald wrote. “We still have a long way to go in our understanding of processes regulating the exchange of mass and heat across geological interfaces that define the internal structure of Enceladus and other ice-covered planetary bodies.”

Originally published on

September 19, 2016

NASA is building the largest rocket of all time for a 2018 launch

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, Mars, Military, Space Exploration, Space Ships — bferrari @ 8:54 am
Artist's rendering of a blueprint of the completed Space Launch System. (NASA/MSFC)

Artist’s rendering of a blueprint of the completed Space Launch System. (NASA/MSFC)

NASA has worked on some inspiring interplanetary projects in the last few years, but few have been as ambitious as the simply-named Space Launch System, a new rocket that will be the largest ever built at 384 feet tall, surpassing even the mighty Saturn V(363 feet), the rocket that took humanity to the moon. It will also be more powerful, with20 percent more thrust using liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel. Last week, NASA announced that the Space Launch System, SLS for short, is on track to perform its first unmanned test launch in 2018. The larger goal is to carry humans into orbit around an asteroid, and then to Mars by the 2030s. After that, NASA says the rocket could be used to reach Saturn and Jupiter.

At the moment, even getting off the ground would be progress: since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, NASA has been left without any domestic capability to launch American astronauts into space; instead it has been purchasing rides for them aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at high cost. While SpaceX and other private companies are working furiously to provide their own human passenger spacecraft for travel into Earth’s orbit, NASA wants to go even further. The agency has begun testing models of the SLSand initial construction of some the major components. It says the first test flight will have an initial cost of $7 billion. The SLS will also be reusing some leftover parts from the inventory of the retired Space Shuttle, including its engines.

However, as with many large NASA projects, the SLS has already been delayed from an initial flight in 2017, and lawmakers in Congress, who must approve NASA’s budget, areconcerned about further delays and cost overruns. Whether NASA is able to keep the project on track remains to be seen, but at the moment, it’s all systems go. Check out the progress and promise in photos and conceptual illustrations below.

NASA engineers used a 67.5-inch model to test how environmental factors including wind and water would affect the rocket on the launchpad. (Credit: NASA/LaRC)

NASA engineers used a 67.5-inch model to test how environmental factors including wind and water would affect the rocket on the launchpad. (Credit: NASA/LaRC)


Artist's rendering of the Space Launch System sitting on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA/MSFC)

Artist’s rendering of the Space Launch System sitting on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (NASA/MSFC)

More awesome images here:


April 21, 2016

The Curious Link Between the Fly-By Anomaly and the “Impossible” EmDrive Thruster

The same theory that explains the puzzling fly-by anomalies could also explain how the controversial EmDrive produces thrust.

About 10 years ago, a little-known aerospace engineer called Roger Shawyer made an extraordinary claim. Take a truncated cone, he said, bounce microwaves back and forth inside it and the result will be a thrust toward the narrow end of the cone. Voila … a revolutionary thruster capable of sending spacecraft to the planets and beyond. Shawyer called it the EmDrive.




Shawyer’s announcement was hugely controversial. The system converts one type of energy into kinetic energy, and there are plenty of other systems that do something similar. In that respect it is unremarkable.

The conceptual problems arise with momentum. The system’s total momentum increases as it begins to move. But where does this momentum come from? Shawyer had no convincing explanation, and critics said this was an obvious violation of the law of conservation of momentum.

Shawyer countered with experimental results showing the device worked as he claimed. But his critics were unimpressed. The EmDrive, they said, was equivalent to generating a thrust by standing inside a box and pushing on the sides. In other words, it was snake oil.

Since then, something interesting has happened. Various teams around the world have begun to build their own versions of the EmDrive and put them through their paces. And to everyone’s surprise, they’ve begun to reproduce Shawyer’s results. The EmDrive, it seems, really does produce thrust.
In 2012, a Chinese team said it had measured a thrust produced by its own version of the EmDrive. In 2014, an American scientist built an EmDrive and persuaded NASA to test it with positive results.

And last year, NASA conducted its own tests in a vacuum to rule out movement of air as the origin of the force. NASA, too, confirmed that the EmDrive produces a thrust. In total, six independent experiments have backed Shawyer’s original claims.

That leaves an important puzzle—how to explain the seeming violation of conservation of momentum.

Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Mike McCulloch at Plymouth University in the U.K. McCulloch’s explanation is based on a new theory of inertia that makes startling predictions about the way objects move under very small accelerations.

First some background. Inertia is the resistance of all massive objects to changes in motion or accelerations. In modern physics, inertia is treated as a fundamental property of massive objects subjected to an acceleration. Indeed, mass can be thought of as a measure of inertia. But why inertia exists at all has puzzled scientists for centuries.

McCulloch’s idea is that inertia arises from an effect predicted by general relativity called Unruh radiation. This is the notion that an accelerating object experiences black body radiation. In other words, the universe warms up when you accelerate.

According to McCulloch, inertia is simply the pressure the Unruh radiation exerts on an accelerating body.

That’s hard to test at the accelerations we normally observe on Earth. But things get interesting when the accelerations involved are smaller and the wavelength of Unruh radiation gets larger.

At very small accelerations, the wavelengths become so large they can no longer fit in the observable universe. When this happens, inertia can take only certain whole-wavelength values and so jumps from one value to the next. In other words, inertia must quantized at small accelerations.

McCulloch says there is observational evidence for this in the form of the famous fly by anomalies. These are the strange jumps in momentum observed in some spacecraft as they fly past Earth toward other planets. That’s exactly what his theory predicts.

Testing this effect more carefully on Earth is hard because the accelerations involved are so small. But one way to make it easier would be to reduce the size of allowed wavelengths of Unruh radiation. “This is what the EmDrive may be doing,” says McCulloch.

The idea is that if photons have an inertial mass, they must experience inertia when they reflect. But the Unruh radiation in this case is tiny. So small in fact that it can interact with its immediate environment. In the case of the EmDrive, this is the truncated cone.

The cone allows Unruh radiation of a certain size at the large end but only a smaller wavelength at the other end. So the inertia of photons inside the cavity must change as they bounce back and forth. And to conserve momentum, this must generate a thrust.

McCulloch puts this theory to the test by using it to predict the forces it must generate. The precise calculations are complex because of the three-dimensional nature of the problem, but his approximate results match the order of magnitude of thrust in all the experiments done so far.

Crucially, McCulloch’s theory makes two testable predictions. The first is that placing a dielectric inside the cavity should enhance the effectiveness of the thruster.

The second is that changing the dimensions of the cavity can reverse the direction of the thrust. That would happen when the Unruh radiation better matches the size of the narrow end than the large end. Changing the frequency of the photons inside the cavity could achieve a similar effect.

McCulloch says there is some evidence that exactly this happens. “This thrust reversal may have been seen in recent NASA experiments,” he says.

That’s an interesting idea. Shawyer’s EmDrive has the potential to revolutionize spaceflight because it requires no propellant, the biggest limiting factor in today’s propulsion systems. But in the absence of any convincing explanation for how it works, scientists and engineers are understandably wary.

McCulloch’s theory could help to change that, although it is hardly a mainstream idea. It makes two challenging assumptions. The first is that photons have inertial mass. The second is that the speed of light must change within the cavity. That won’t be easy for many theorists to stomach.

But as more experimental confirmations of Shawyer’s EmDrive emerge, theorists are being forced into a difficult position. If not McCulloch’s explanation, then what?

Ref: : Testing Quantized Inertia on the EmDrive

February 26, 2016

Explaining EmDrive, the ‘physics-defying’ thruster even NASA is puzzled over


Even if you don’t keep up with developments in space propulsion technology, you’ve still probably heard about the EmDrive. You’ve probably seen headlines declaring it the key to interstellar travel, and claims that it will drastically reduce travel time across our solar system, making our dreams of people walking on other planets even more of a reality. There have even been claims that this highly controversial technology is the key to creating warp drives.

These are bold claims, and as the great cosmologist and astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” With that in mind, we thought it’d be helpful to break down what we know about the enigmatic EmDrive, and whether it is, in fact, the key to mankind exploring the stars.

So without further ado, here’s absolutely everything you need to know about the world’s most puzzling propulsion device.


What is the EmDrive?

See, the EmDrive is a conundrum. First designed in 2001 by aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer, the technology can be summed up as a propellantless propulsion system, meaning the engine doesn’t use fuel to cause a reaction. Removing the need for fuel makes a craft substantially lighter, and therefore easier to move (and cheaper to make, theoretically). In addition, the hypothetical drive is able to reach extremely high speeds — we’re talking potentially getting humans to the outer reaches of the solar system in a matter of months.

We’re talking potentially getting humans to the outer reaches of the solar system in a matter of months. The issue is, the entire concept of a reactionless drive is inconsistent with Newton’s conservation of momentum, which states that within a closed system, linear and angular momentum remain constant regardless of any changes that take place within said system. More plainly: Unless an outside force is applied, an object will not move.


Reactionless drives are named as such because they lack the “reaction” defined in Newton’s third law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” But this goes against our current fundamental understanding of physics: An action (propulsion of a craft) taking place without a reaction (ignition of fuel and expulsion of mass) should be impossible. For such a thing to occur, it would mean an as-yet-undefined phenomenon is taking place — or our understanding of physics is completely wrong.

How does the EmDrive “work?”

Setting aside the potentially physics-breaking improbabilities of the technology, let’s break down in simple terms how the proposed drive operates. The EmDrive is what is called an RF resonant cavity thruster, and is one of several hypothetical machines that use this model. These designs work by having a magnetron push microwaves into a closed truncated cone, then push against the short end of the cone, and propel the craft forward.

This is in contrast to the form of propulsion current spacecraft use, which burn large quantities of fuel to expel a massive amount of energy and mass to rocket the craft into the air. An often-used metaphor for the inefficacy of this is to compare the particles pushing against the enclosure and producing thrust to the act of sitting in a car and pushing a steering wheel to move the car forward.

While tests have been done on experimental versions of the drive — with low energy inputs resulting in a few micronewtons of thrust (about as much force as the weight of a penny) — none of the findings have ever been published in a peer-reviewed journal. That means that any and all purportedly positive test results, and the claims of those who have a vested interest in the technology, should be taken with a very big grain of skepticism-flavored salt. It’s likely that the thrust recorded was due to interference or an unaccounted error with equipment.

Until the tests have been verified through the proper scientific and peer-reviewed processes, one can assume the drive does not yet work. Still, it’s interesting to note the number of people who have tested the drive and reported achieving thrust:

  • In 2001, Shawyer was given a £45,000 grant from the British government to test the EmDrive. His test reportedly achieved 0.016 Newtons of force and required 850 watts of power, but no peer review of the tests verified this. It’s worth noting, however, that this number was low enough that it was potentially an experimental error.
  • In 2008, Yang Juan and a team of Chinese researches at the Northwestern Polytechnical University allegedly verified the theory behind RF resonant cavity thrusters, and subsequently built their own version in 2010, testing the drive multiple times from 2012 to 2014. Tests results were purportedly positive, achieving up yo 750 mN (millinewtons) of thrust, and requiring 2,500 watts of power.
  • In 2014, NASA researchers, tested their own version of an EmDrive, including in a hard vacuum. Once again, the group reported thrust (about 1/1,000 of Shawyer’s claims), and once again, the data was never published through peer-reviewed sources. Other NASA groups are skeptical of researchers’ claims, but in their paper, it is clearly stated that these findings neither confirm nor refute the drive, instead calling for further tests.
  • In 2015, that same NASA group tested a version of chemical engineer Guido Fetta’s Cannae Drive (née Q Drive), and reported positive net thrust. Similarly, a research group at Dresden University of Technology also tested the drive, again reporting thrust, both predicted and unexpected.
  • Yet another test by a NASA research group, Eagleworks, in late 2015 seemingly confirmed the validity of the EmDrive. The test corrected errors that had occurred in the previous tests, and surprisingly, the drive achieved thrust. However, the group has not yet submitted their findings for peer review. It’s possible that other unforeseen errors in the experiment may have cause thrust (the most likely of which is that the vacuum was compromised, causing heat to expand air within it testing environment and move the drive). Whether the findings are ultimately published or not, more tests need to be done. That’s exactly what Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory intend to do. For EmDrive believers, there seems to be some hope.

Implications of a working EmDrive

It’s easy to see how many in the scientific community are wary of EmDrive and RF resonant cavity thrusts altogether. But on the other hand, the wealth of studies raises a few questions: Why is there such a interest in the technology, and why do so many people wish to test it? What exactly are the claims being made about the drive that make it such an attractive idea? While everything from atmospheric temperature-controlling satellites, to safer and more efficient automobiles have been drummed up as potential applications for the drive, the real draw of the technology — and the impetus for its creation in the first place — is the implications for space travel.


Spacecraft equipped with a reactionless drive could potentially make it to the moon in just a few hours, Mars in two to three months, and Pluto within two years. These are extremely bold claims, but if the EmDrive does turn out to be a legitimate technology, they may not be all that outlandish. And with no need to pack several tons-worth of fuel, spacecraft become cheaper and easier to produce, and far lighter.
For NASA and other such organizations, including the numerous private space corporations like SpaceX, lightweight, affordable spacecraft that can travel to remote parts of space fast are something of a unicorn. Still, for that to become a reality, the science has to add up.

Shawyer is adamant that there is no need for pseudoscience or quantum theories to explain how EmDrive works. Instead, he believes that current models of Newtonian physics offer an explanation, and has written papers on the subject, one of which is currently being peer reviewed. He expects the paper to be published sometime this year. While in the past Shawyer has been criticized by other scientists for incorrect and inconsistent science, if the paper does indeed get published, it may begin to legitimize the EmDrive and spur more testing and research.

Spacecraft equipped with a reactionless drive could potentially make it to the Moon in just a few hours.

Despite his insistence that the drive behaves within the laws of physics, it hasn’t prevented him from making bold assertions regarding EmDrive. Shawyer has gone on record saying that this new drive produced warp bubbles which allow the drive to move, claiming that this is how NASA’s test results were likely achieved. Assertions such as these have garnered much interest online, but have no clear supporting data and will (at the very least) require extensive testing and debate in order to be taken seriously by the scientific community — the majority of which remain skeptical of Shawyer’s claims.

Colin Johnston of the Armagh Planetarium wrote an extensive critique of the EmDrive and the inconclusive findings of numerous tests. Similarly, Corey S. Powell of Discovery wrote his own indictment of both Shawyer’s EmDrive and Fetta’s Cannae Drive, as well as the recent fervor over NASA’s findings. Both point out the need for greater discretion when reporting on such instances. Professor and mathematical physicist, John C. Baez expressed his exhaustion at the conceptual technology’s persistence in debates and discussions, calling the entire notion of a reactionless drive “baloney.” His impassioned dismissal echoes the sentiments of many others.

Shawyer’s EmDrive has been met with enthusiasm elsewhere, including the website — where information about the most recent Eagleworks’ tests was first posted — and the popular journal New Scientist, which published a favorable and optimistic paper on EmDrive. (The editors later issued a statement that, despite enduring excitement over the idea, they should have shown more tact when writing on the controversial subject.)

Clearly, the EmDrive and RF resonant cavity thruster technology have a lot to prove. There’s no denying that the technology is exciting, and that the number of “successful” tests are interesting, but one must keep in mind the physics preventing the EmDrive from gaining any traction, and the rather curious lack of peer-reviewed studies done on the subject. If the EmDrive is so groundbreaking (and works), surely people like Shawyer would be clamoring for peer-reviewed verification.

A demonstrably working EmDrive could open up exciting possibilities for both space and terrestrial travel — not to mention call into question our entire understanding of physics. However, until that comes to pass, it will remain nothing more than science fiction.

Read more:
Follow us: @digitaltrends on Twitter | digitaltrendsftw on Facebook

January 24, 2016

Particles could reveal clues to how Egypt pyramid was built

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Gadgets, Planets, Wierd — bferrari @ 11:29 am
FILE - This file Aug. 19, 2011 photo shows the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur, about 25 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Coralie Carlson, File)

FILE – This file Aug. 19, 2011 photo shows the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur, about 25 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Coralie Carlson, File)

CAIRO — An international team of researchers said Sunday they will soon begin analyzing cosmic particles collected inside Egypt’s Bent Pyramid to search for clues as to how it was built and learn more about the 4,600-year-old structure.

Mehdi Tayoubi, president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute, said that plates planted inside the pyramid last month have collected data on radiographic particles known as muons that rain down from the earth’s atmosphere.

The particles pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces. By studying particle accumulations, scientists may learn more about the construction of the pyramid, built by the Pharaoh Snefru.

“For the construction of the pyramids, there is no single theory that is 100 percent proven or checked; They are all theories and hypotheses,” said Hany Helal, the institute’s vice president.

“What we are trying to do with the new technology, we would like to either confirm or change or upgrade or modify the hypotheses that we have on how the pyramids were constructed,” he said.

The Bent Pyramid in Dahshur, just outside Cairo, is distinguished by the bent slope of its sides. It is believed to have been ancient Egypt’s first attempt to build a smooth-sided pyramid.

The Scan Pyramids project, which announced in November thermal anomalies in the 4,500 year-old Khufu Pyramid in Giza, is coupling thermal technology with muons analysis to try to unlock secrets to the construction of several ancient Egyptian pyramids.

Tayoubi said the group plans to start preparations for muons testing in a month in Khufu, the largest of the three Giza pyramids, which is known internationally as Cheops.

“Even if we find one square meter void somewhere, it will bring new questions and hypotheses and maybe it will help solve the definitive questions,” said Tayoubi.


December 18, 2015

Wolf 1061 exoplanet: ‘Super-Earth’ discovered only 14 light-years away

Filed under: Cool, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Planets — bferrari @ 10:54 am

Alien life could be closer to us than previously thought. Scientists have just discovered the nearest habitable planet to Earth.

The new world is one of three surrounding a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061, which is just 14 light years away. It was detected by scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.

All three planets have the potential to be solid and rocky, but only Wolf 1061c exists within the “Goldilocks zone” — a distance from the star (much smaller and cooler than our sun) that is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water.

“This rare discovery is incredibly exciting,” UNSW’s Duncan Wright, who led the study, told CNN.

“Other planets found that are habitable are not nearly this close to Earth. Because of the close proximity of this planet to us, there is good opportunity to find out more about it.”

“The close proximity of the planets around Wolf 1061 means there is a good chance these planets may pass across the face of the star,” UNSW team member Rob Wittenmyer said in an earlier statement.

“If they do, then it may be possible to study the atmospheres of these planets in future to see whether they would be conducive to life.”


NASA has confirmed more than 1,870 exoplanets — worlds outside our solar system. But this discovery is particularly important because Wolf 1061c is both habitable and close to our solar system.

November 25, 2015

Blue Origin makes historic reusable rocket landing in epic test flight

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Inner Solar System, Moon, Space Ships — bferrari @ 10:38 am



The private spaceflight company Blue Origin just launched itself into the history books by successfully flying and landing a reusable rocket.

Powered by the company’s own BE-3 engine, the rocket kicked off the launchpad on Nov. 23 at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, carrying the New Shepard space vehicle. The stunning feat was captured in an amazing test flight video released by the company.

Shortly after liftoff, the rocket separated from the vehicle. In the past, a spent rocket would fall back to Earth like a stone, having completed its one and only flight.

But Blue Origin’s rocket didn’t fall aimlessly back to Earth; instead, it was guided toward a landing pad, where it re-ignited its engines, hovered briefly above the ground and finally touched down softly on the pad, remaining upright and intact. This soft landing means the rocket can be used for more flights, which Blue Origin and other companies have said will significantly drive down the cost of spaceflight. [See more photos of Blue Origin’s epic test flight]

No other agency or company has successfully landed a reusable rocket before.

“Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore,” stated a blog post on the company’s website, written by founder Jeff Bezos, the billionaire who also founded “Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket. This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design.”

Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule reached a maximum altitude of 329,839 feet and a speed of Mach 3.72, meaning 3.72 times the speed of sound, or about 2,854 mph, according a press release.

The release also laid out the details of the rocket booster landing. The rocket’s physical design first helped it to glide back toward the launch pad. Closer to the ground, the vehicle’s eight “drag brakes” reduced its terminal speed to 387 mph. Additional fins on the outside of the vehicle “steered it through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad,” the release stated.

Finally, the BE-3 engine re-ignited “to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touch down on the pad.”

The New Shepard crew vehicle also landed safely, guided down to Earth by parachutes.

Blue Origin has been somewhat secretive about the progress of its spaceflight vehicles and rockets; the company typically doesn’t announce test flights until they are already completed. Blue Origin intends to use the New Shepard vehicle for suborbital space tourism and as a microgravity science laboratory. (Suborbital means the vehicle can fly only to a lower altitude than is necessary to start orbiting the Earth — it would have to travel higher, and faster, to reach altitudes achieved by orbiting satellites or the International Space Station, for example.)

The company is also working on an orbital vehicle, which has been nicknamed “Very Big Brother.”

“We are building Blue Origin to seed an enduring human presence in space, to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know,” Bezos wrote in the blog post. “We are pursuing this vision patiently, step by step. Our fantastic team in Kent [Washington], Van Horn [Texas] and Cape Canaveral [Florida] is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.”

Blue Origin is not the only company pursuing a reusable rocket design. The private spaceflight company SpaceX, founded by another Internet billionaire, Elon Musk, has made two efforts to set down a rocket on a landing pad after flight. But both times, the rocket came in too hard and too fast, and crashed on the landing pad.

On Nov. 24, Musk tweeted, “Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL [vertical takeoff and landing] on their booster.” But, in a second tweet, he said, “It is, however, important to clear up the difference between ‘space’ and ‘orbit,’ as described well by”

SpaceX is not building a suborbital vehicle like New Shepard. Musk’s company’s robotic Dragon cargo capsule has already flown supplies to the International Space Station, and SpaceX has been selected by NASA to build a crew vehicle that will take people to the orbiting laboratory.


October 19, 2015

Incredible Cross-section of the Saturn V Moon Rocket

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Moon, Space Ships — bferrari @ 9:12 pm
The Incredible Saturn V

The Incredible Saturn V

September 28, 2015

NASA Makes it Official: There’s Water on Mars !!!

Filed under: Cool, Extraterrestrial Life, Inner Solar System, Mars — bferrari @ 3:08 pm

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. (Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona) These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. (Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)


Speculation has been mounting that NASA’s announcement would involve flowing water. Scientists have long known that there is frozen water at Mars’ poles, but they have never discovered liquid water. The discovery could have huge consequences for future expeditions, including NASA’s goal of sending a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s.

Scientists have based their findings on an analysis of the mysterious dark streaks on Mars’ surface called Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL). The streaks haveintrigued scientists for some time, fading during cooler months and recurring annually at nearly the same locations. “The dark streaks form in late spring, grow through the summer and disappear by the fall,” explained Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

Using an an imaging spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Obiter (MRO), scientists detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where the streaks occur. Experts believe that the hydrated salts are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate.

Mary Beth Wilhelm of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. and the Georgia Institute of Technology said the evidence of salty water could have major implications. “Our results may point to more habitable conditions on the near surface of Mars than formerly thought,” she said.

“This is tremendously exciting,” added Green. “We now have a great opportunity to be in the right locations to investigate that.”

Related: NASA releases stunning image of a supernova’s remnants

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide, according to NASA. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren’t as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona) Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Armed with the latest RSL findings, scientists are keen to undertake more research over the coming years. “The only way that we will be able to tell if there is life on Mars will be to bring a sample back,” said Meyer.

Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, a non-profit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, welcomed Monday’s NASA announcement. “We’ve been speculating about whether there is liquid water on Mars for some time, but now that it has been confirmed, it might have some significant implications,” he told “First, it greatly enhances the chances of past or present life on Mars.  Everywhere there is liquid water on  earth, there is life. Is that true on Mars? We don’t know.”

Carberry added that water on Mars could also benefit future explorers. “If they can access the water, it will add significantly to the sustainability of human presence on Mars,” he said.


September 20, 2015

Stunning 7-mile scale model of the solar system created in Nevada

Filed under: Cool, Earth, inn, Inner Solar System, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 9:06 am

A group of friends has created a stunning 7-mile scale model of the solar system on a dry lakebed in Nevada.

“The only way to see a scale model of the solar system was to build one,” explained science film-maker, noting the vast distances between planets. The visually striking project is documented in “To Scale: The Solar System” a 7-minute short film by Overstreet and Alex Gorosh.

Related: NASA releases dramatic new Pluto images

In the scale model Mercury, Venus and Earth are, respectively, 224 feet, 447 feet and 579 feet away from the Sun. Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus are, respectively, 0.57 miles, 1.1 miles and 2.1 miles from the fiery orb with Neptune 3.5 miles away, right on the edge of the solar system.

In reality, Neptune is around 2.8 billion miles from the Sun.

The group used cars to trace the planets’ orbits. Time lapse shots were taken from the top of a nearby mountain, creating a striking representation of the vast solar system.

To Scale: The Solar System from Wylie Overstreet on Vimeo.

Older Posts »

Blog at