Courtesy RHorningWould you be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars? More than 200,000 people said "yes" to a venture by Mars One, a private space exploration team that says it wants to take a team to Mars and keep them living there the rest of their natural lives. The target mission date is 2024. The winnowing process to get to the final 24 candidates is right now whittling down the remaining 600 applicants to a finalist field of 24. The Washington Post, today, interviews a number of US candidates who are being considered for the mission.
Courtesy Ron Miller Just from watching the opening of Star Trek episodes, we've heard that space is vast. But to we really understand the scale of things comparing our little planet with other planets, stars and galaxies? This collection of illustrations helps grasp those concepts better. Hang on tight!
Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDARosetta - a spacecraft launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA) - finally reached its goal yesterday, aligning and syching itself up with the orbital path of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) speeding around the Sun.
During the course of its trajectory, Rosetta utilized the gravity of both Earth and Mars in several slingshot maneuvers to accelerate and help hurdle the spacecraft toward its destination. The comet is traveling toward the sun at 34,175 mph. After a high-speed chase across nearly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) of interplanetary space Rosetta had to slam on its brakes over the past to months to reduce its speed (relative to the comet) to just under 2 miles per hour.
"This arrival phase in fact is the most complex and exotic trajectory that we have ever seen," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French Space Agency CNES.
Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDAThe spacecraft will spend the next year or so collecting data and photographing the comet which is roughly 2 miles in diameter and shaped somewhat like a duck. Comets are thought to be composed of the same nebular material present when the Sun and planets first formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta will help increase our knowledge of the solar system's beginnings.
This coming November ESA engineers will command Rosetta's lander, Philae, to set down on the comet's surface to collect even more data, a feat never before attempted. That will certainly be worth watching.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe first of 4 consecutive total lunar eclipses occurs late tonight (and early Tuesday morning) and will be visible to practically all of the United States (local weather permitting). The astronomical event begins around 5:58 UT, and should last about 4 and a half hours from start to finish.
A total lunar eclipse takes place when the moon passes through the Earth's umbra, the innermost darkest shadow created by the Earth as it (from the Moon's perspective) blocks out the Sun. Refraction caused by the Earth's atmosphere allows for some of the Sun's light to bend around the Earth and bathe the Moon in an amber glow, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon, especially by some fundamental religious groups who see it as an omen of the biblical End Times. There are two other kinds of lunar eclipses. When the Moon passes only through the penumbra, the faint part of the shadow, that's called a penumbral lunar eclipse. When only a portion of the Moon intersects with the darker umbra, that's a partial lunar eclipse.
As I mentioned, tonight's eclipse is the first in a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. This is a pretty uncommon occurrence known as a tetrad. Only 62 tetrad events will have occurred from 1 A.D. to the year 2100, and just eight in the 1200 months of the 21st century.
Each year there are at least two lunar eclipses and sometimes as many as five. Eclipses don't happen every month because the plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth is tilted. Usually, consecutive eclipses are a mix of partial, penumbral, and the relatively rarer total lunar eclipses. To have four total lunar eclipses happen in a row, as we will over the next seventeen months or so is even rarer. And luckily, all four of them be will visible to most of us in the United States.
Tonight's celestial event begins at 11:55 PM (Minneapolis time) and reaches maximum eclipse at 2:46 AM, then finishes at 4:32 AM. If you want to confirm the times for your area, use this handy eclipse calculator. The night-owl timing of tonight's eclipse might keep many of you from enjoying it (I'll probably be sleeping), but just know there are three more headed our way: October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.
This could be the coolest moment of your Monday. The video above shows the test firing of the Grasshopper rocket on Oct. 7. The 10-story tall rocket is designed to lift off and return to Earth intact. In this test, the rocket reached a height of 744 meters (about 2,230 feet). It was filmed using a drone-like hexacopter. Here's a link to the youtube site set up by the rocket-testing agency.
Courtesy WikipediaFilm goers will have the chance to travel through space this weekend with the blockbuster movie "Gravity" hitting the theaters. Its a ficticious story about two American astronauts dealing with disaster during a space shuttle mission.
I've come to expect Hollywood to place loose and easy with actual science when it comes to movies with scientific themes. And then today I stumbled upon this article in Time by Jeffrey Kluger, the co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which was the basis of the Apollo 13 movie released in 1995.
He applies his extensive space knowledge to fact check what's depicted in the new George Clooney/Sandra Bullock film. Here's his analytical summary: "So, that’s a lot that Gravity gets wrong. But you know what? So what? The shuttle, space station and spacesuits are painstakingly recreated; the physics of moving about in space—thrusts requiring counterthrusts, spins requiring counterspins, the hideous reality that if you do go spiraling off into the void your rotation never, never stops—are all simulated beautifully, scarily and accurately."
Click on the link above to get detailed analysis of what's scientifically right and wrong with Gravity.
Have you seen the film? What do you think about its accuracy in portraying the science of living and traveling in space?
Courtesy Karen NybergIt's summer. You're toiling away at work while friends are out traveling, posting images of their fun and exotic discoveries on social media. But they can't beat Minnesota-native astronaut Karen Nyberg. From her perch aboard the International Space Station, she's created an extensive gallery of images from space including this image of Minnesota that includes her hometown of Battle Lake. There are come very artistic displays of global weather activities in these photos.
Bill Nye gives us a quick, and fun, lesson on how we can avoid problem asteroids of the future.
I had an interesting discussion related to the many and dramatic ways a person would perish when exposed to the vacuum of space recently. We discussed the many dramatic and horrific things that would happen. Blood boiling, eyes popping out... Turns out to be a lot less dramatic. Here is what NASA has to say about what happens to the body when exposed to the vacuum of space.
If you don't try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you'll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts -- and experiments confirm -- that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.
Various minor problems (sunburn, possibly "the bends", certainly some [mild, reversible, painless] swelling of skin and underlying tissue) start after ten seconds or so. At some point you lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. Injuries accumulate. After perhaps one or two minutes, you're dying. The limits are not really known.
You do not explode and your blood does not boil because of the containing effect of your skin and circulatory system. You do not instantly freeze because, although the space environment is typically very cold, heat does not transfer away from a body quickly. Loss of consciousness occurs only after the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood. If your skin is exposed to direct sunlight without any protection from its intense ultraviolet radiation, you can get a very bad sunburn.
At NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now renamed Johnson Space Center) we had a test subject accidentally exposed to a near vacuum (less than 1 psi) in an incident involving a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber back in '65. He remained conscious for about 14 seconds, which is about the time it takes for O2 deprived blood to go from the lungs to the brain. The suit probably did not reach a hard vacuum, and we began repressurizing the chamber within 15 seconds. The subject regained consciousness at around 15,000 feet equivalent altitude. The subject later reported that he could feel and hear the air leaking out, and his last conscious memory was of the water on his tongue beginning to boil.
So, bad things clearly happen. Just not the very dramatic bad things I, and lots of others, had previously imagined.
Courtesy NASATo paraphrase Capt. Kirk, we've now gone boldly where no one has gone before. After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, NASA's Voyager I spacecraft has officially left our solar system. Measuring instruments on the craft no longer defect the movement of solar wind, which is the movement of particles influenced by energy released by our Sun, around Voyager I. Following not too far behind is Voyager II, which as covered about 9.5 billion miles. You can learn more about the milestone by clicking here.
UPDATE: Wait a second, NASA isn't agreeing with this analysis on Voyager I's location. You can read more about this brewing science controversy here. Does Pluto have anything to do with this?