When we talk about dark matter and its alternatives, we are talking about no less a task than explaining the structure of every large object in the Universe. On the largest scales dark matter blows all of its competitors away. In terms of explaining the large-scale structure of the Universe, not a single one of dark matter's alternatives comes close to mirroring its success. But of course, that doesn't stop the sensationalist headlines from rolling in. We are understandably uncomfortable with the notion that we are not the most important thing in the Universe. We've just successfully figured out where the new material to form the Milky Way's young stars is coming from: high-velocity intergalactic gas clouds! About a Sun's worth of gas falls into the Milky Way (on average) every year, and this resupplies the Milky Way's gas reserves, which get eaten up as new stars form over billions of years. But what about the other, larger mystery? What about reproducing the structure of the Milky Way itself?
Incredible, stunning, beautiful and humbling. Time lapse videos from Hubble.
Hey, remember the ISS, that space station the Space Shuttle helped build before the shuttle was retired? Turns out humans might have to vacate that nifty space station for a bit. [more inside]
Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life finished today. Promises of new projects and a print version by December have been made. [more inside]
FOX has greenlit an update of Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (on Hulu, previously) co-produced by Sagan's widow Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, which will air in Fall 2013. [more inside]
NASA May Have Discovered Flowing Water on Mars Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.
Are We Alone In the Universe? New Analysis Says Maybe. In a new paper published on arXiv.org, astrophysicist David Spiegel at Princeton University and physicist Edwin Turner at the University of Tokyo argue...using a statistical method called Bayesian reasoning...that the life here on Earth could be common, or it could be extremely rare — there's no reason to prefer one conclusion over the other. [more inside]
Pluto may have been downsized in 2006, but it's still living large, moon wise: A fourth moon has been discovered orbiting the dwarf planet.
Dawn spacecraft now orbits asteroid Vesta - After almost 4 years of space travel, the Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Vesta, an Arizona sized rock. Dawn tweets, takes pictures, and there is a Vesta Fiesta party to celebrate. After hanging out at Vesta for a year, Dawn will head off to visit the Ceres asteroid next, a three year trip. Amazing achievement of engineering, innovation and accuracy.
Fancy yourself a rocket scientist? Want to build rockets and shoot little green guys into space? Comfortable with your rocket flying apart and exploding into a thousand fiery pieces? Able to press the space bar? Try Kerbal Space Program. [more inside]
On July 5th the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured video of a comet, known as a sungrazer, in route to collide with our star. SOHO is equipped with an occluding coronograph that blocks direct sunlight and reveals the corona, but also prevents direct study of the terminal impact of sungrazers. But on July 6th, with the help of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), astronomers were able to observe the comet (slyt) streaking in front of the surface of the sun for the first time in history. It likely disintegrated before impact due to extreme heat and radiation.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, is scheduled to lift off this morning from Kennedy Space Center. The time was originally scheduled for 11:26 AM EDT, but that has been pushed back, despite "no technical concerns and... weather is a 'go'." Astronauts aboard are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. Watch live coverage, with some archival footage, on NASA's Ustream or on NASA.gov. NASA has provided countdown highlights of the day to get you up to speed. Read NASA's feed on Twitter. At the time of this post's writing, the countdown clock is on a scheduled hold with 9 minutes to go. Previously, STS-134, on the Blue.
In After Earth Ben Austen looks at "Why, Where, How, and When We Might Leave Our Home Planet" while Jared Daniel asks, if given a chance to found the first human colony on Mars, would you go? Maybe we could turn it into a home away from home or perhaps we should terraform Earth first.
Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists presents Fifty Years of Space Nuclear Power "A plutonium fueled RTG that was deployed in 1965 by the CIA not in space but on a mountaintop in the Himalayas (to help monitor Chinese nuclear tests) continues to generate anxiety, not electricity, more than four decades after it was lost in place. See, most recently, "River Deep Mountain High" by Vinod K. Jose, The Caravan magazine, December 1, 2010." (MeFi previously)
The official Google Earth plugin is one free download that makes all sorts of cool stuff possible in your browser. There's a full screen version of the program (complete with underwater views and 3D buildings) which can be searched by entering queries at the end of the URL. There's a framed version with support for layers, historical imagery, day/night cycles, and the Google Sky starmap. Less useful but more fun are Google's collection of "experiments" demonstrating the possibilities of the Earth API, including a "Geo Whiz" geography quiz, an antipode locater, a 3D first-person view of San Francisco, a virtual route-follower, and MONSTER MILKTRUCK!, a crazy fun driving simulator that lets you careen a virtual milk truck through the Googleplex campus, ricochet off the Himalayas, or explore any other place you care to name. Lots more can be found in the Google Earth Gallery -- highlights include a look at mountaintop removal mining, a real-time flight tracker, a guide to trails and outdoor recreation, a 360 panorama catalog, geotagged Panoramio photos, and the comprehensive crowdsourced Google Earth Community Layer. And while it's too large to view online, don't miss loading the Metafilter user location map into a desktop version of Google Earth! [more inside]
It is a stunning image and one that is bound to be reproduced over and over again whenever they recall the history of the US space shuttle.
On May 16, 2011, after one scrubbed attempt, the space shuttle Endeavour set off on her final mission, STS-134. Shuttle commander Mark Kelly had this to say after receiving a "go" from the launch poll:
On this final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, we want to thank all the tens of thousands of dedicated employees that have put their hands on this incredible ship and dedicated their lives to the space shuttle program. As Americans, we Endeavour to build a better life than the generation before, and we Endeavour to be a united nation. In these efforts, we are often tested. This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment, and exploration. It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore; we must not stop. To all the millions watching today, including our spouses, children, family, and friends, we thank you for your support.You've seen launches before, but NASA has uploaded a whole slew of angles that will truly amaze: Witness 4.4 million pounds of shuttle, fuel, and rocket boosters "twang" a full 18 inches as the main engines ignite. 1.2 million pounds of thrust push against a locked down stack, waiting for the solid rocket boosters to ignite. (The SRBs bring the total to 7 million lbs of thrust, enough to break all that binds her to the pad.) OTV Camera 71, a fantastic, short close-up. UCS-15 (TV-21A) provides a dead-on, close up shot of the launch. The South Beach Tracker shot offers a fantastic view as well. From 3.1 miles away at the Press Site, note the ~11 second delay before the piercing sound of the SRBs hits. And just released today, fantastic footage from the solid rocket boosters, including their trip to splashdown in the Atlantic ocean from 30 miles up. And finally, the classic NASA view, with some great data overlays by Spacevidcast. [more inside]
50 years ago today, on May 25 1961, US President John F. Kennedy decided "...this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Eight years later the Apollo program fulfilled the task, leaving the world with a legacy that includes advances in computers and communciation, lessons in managing complex projects, technological innovations and new views of the Earth. [more inside]
Croatian software developer and amateur image processor Gordan Ugarković takes images from NASA's unmanned space probes released to the Planetary Data System, splices them together and tweaks the colors, sometimes combining higher resolution black and white images with color images, sometimes recreating what the object would look like in natural color (ie, in visible wavelengths, from images taken in multiple wavelengths), sometimes heightening the contrast to bring out detail. (via) [more inside]
The International Academy of Astronautics is holding the Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting Earth from Asteroids May 9-12, 2011. in Bucharest, Romania [more inside]
The concept of time as a way to measure the duration of events is not only deeply intuitive, it also plays an important role in our mathematical descriptions of physical systems. For instance, we define an object’s speed as its displacement per a given time. But some researchers theorize that this Newtonian idea of time as an absolute quantity that flows on its own, along with the idea that time is the fourth dimension of spacetime, are incorrect. They propose to replace these concepts of time with a view that corresponds more accurately to the physical world: time as a measure of the numerical order of change.
An interesting article from Wired about Soviet photo manipulations from the 1960s space race. [more inside]
Following on the heels of NASA's announcement of the final resting places of the various space shuttles, NASA, in conjunction with William Shatner, released a final video commemorating the program. (SLYT)
First Orbit. "On 12th April 2011 it will be 50 years to the day since Yuri Gagarin climbed into his space ship and was launched into space. It took him just 108 minutes to orbit Earth and he returned as the World's very first space man. To mark this historic flight we have teamed up with the astronauts onboard the International Space Station to film a new view of what Yuri would have seen as he travelled around the planet. Weaving these new views together with historic voice recordings from Yuri's flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the World on this historic anniversary." [more inside]
32 images of the earth from the blackness of space, many with spacewalking astronauts in the foreground, presented in a Big Picture style. (via) [more inside]
As they leave the solar system, the Pioneer spacecraft have anomalously decelerated, pointing to a possible gap in our understanding of gravity. Now, a computer graphics technique known as Phong shading predicts that the Pioneer anomaly is just a side effect of how the shape of the spacecraft reflects sunlight.
The Van Allen Belt is a pesky radioactive torus surrounding Earth. Spacecraft operating for extended periods within it must use heavy and expensive radiation hardening techniques just to survive. Tethers Unlimited has proposed a rather daring scheme for circumventing this nuisance: HiVOLT. [more inside]
In 1967, Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov went up in a capsule he knew would never get back (NSFW gruesome image) to earth in one piece. He could have bowed out of the mission, but that would meant his good friend, Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) would have drawn the mission instead. So Vladamir launched knowing it was a suicide mission. The CIA was listening in , and recorded what may have been Vladimir Komarov's last words, amid cries of rage. Adding to the tragedy, Yuri died in a plane crash the next year.
"The Earth tide is a little-known daily event, similar to the oceans' more familiar tides. But the sun and moon's gravity doesn’t just pull on water, it deforms the Earth itself, causing the ground beneath us to bulge toward the pulling heavenly body." [more inside]
You Never Get a Seventh Chance to Make a First Impression: An Awkward History of Our Space Transmissions
Dr. Hoover has discovered evidence of microfossils similar to Cyanobacteria in freshly fractured slices of the interior surfaces of the Alais, Ivuna, and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. The scientist's conclusion is that the fossilized bacteria are not Earthly contaminants but are the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies. The implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets.
Passage of the International Space Station and Discovery, taken on February 28th 2011 at 17:58UT from the area of Weimar, Germany. The shooting equipment is described in detail in this page. (Flash 10 required)
"For those of us who dreamed of trips to Mars, the trouble with our times, as Paul Valery once said, is that the future is not what it used to be."
ISRO scientists think they have found a horizontal uncollapsed lava tube on the moon, 1.7 km long, 360 m wide, and 120 m high (roughly 1 mile x 1200 ft x 400 ft) which could be used as a lunar base by astronauts for inter-planetary missions. [more inside]
STS 133 Space Shuttle Discovery (Single Link Space shuttle Launch)
Introducing the Nautilus-X MMSEV, a manned deep space craft proposed by a team at NASA's Johnson Space Centre.
Starship Schematics Database: dedicated to the sole purpose of archiving every single starship design ever conceived in the Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, and Space Battleship Yamato (A.K.A. Star Blazers in the USA) Universes, both official and unofficial, interesting and mediocre.
Apollo 14, with Alan Shepard, American's first man in space, as the Commander, Stuart Roosa, Command Module Pilot and Edgar Mitchell, lunar module pilot, splashed down forty years ago today. It was flight of the rookies (total previous time in space was 15 minutes, all by Shepard). There were several odd things about the flight, but no need to worry, the moon trees are doing just fine.
Several months ago, Bill Rankin of Radical Cartography (previously and previouslier) created an astronomical calendar of events for New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives, featuring all of the inexorable rhythms of the Solar System in one handy PNG file. Now you can create such a calendar for any location on the planet, with information as basic as the hours of daylight or as esoteric as the tilt of Saturn's rings, all lovingly rendered in soothing translucent pastels. [more inside]
Space Stasis - What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation. By Neal Stephenson.
Amateur radio gets stick for being home to a lot of reactionary weird old buffers. How true. Many are put off by this. And that's a crying shame... [more inside]
Challenger . . . . go with throttle up. Twenty-five years ago today the U.S. Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into the 25th space shuttle flight. The reports (pdf) tell us of O-Ring failures. Today, we remember one of the most tragic days in the history of the U.S. manned spaceflight program. Today, January 28, 2011, we remember: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.