Looking to Space…and Beyond

No roundup abouit space would be complete without mentioning the disastrous crash of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two… and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket. Are we under attack by UFOs? (Yes, silvery guys… I’m lookin’ at you.) Seriously, our sympathy to both teams and best wishes for recovery and future success.

== Space News ==

niac-videoIs suspended animation possible? Can we 3D print whole structures on the moon? How about swimming the ocean of Europa? Our leader at NASA NIAC – Jay Falker – explains the mission, to explore highly speculative ideas with small, seed grants. Watch this short video about NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I am proud to be on the board of advisors. YOU should be proud to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Art often interfaces with science, but not quite like this. As reported by Adam Rogers (my former ArchiTECHS co-star) in WIRED — The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar — it seems that the special effects team for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming (and much-awaited) film Interstellar consulted with another friend of mine — Caltech’s brilliant Kip Thorne, who supplied equations that Nolan’s team crunched and crunched… in order to show us what (according to Thorne) a Black Hole “will actually look like.”

This isn’t the first time that art rendered a best-image for science! One small, personal example: my doctoral dissertation, predicting how dust layers on comets would affect their activity, has been proved yet again with recent missions. But it was the novel Heart of the Comet that nailed the size and shape of Halley’s Comet, just before Europe’s Giotto mission confirmed both within 20%.

But this is just plain terrific. If you are like me, you are bouncing against walls with eagerness to see Interstellar! Both as fans and for what it may do to shatter the stunning cowardice toward new ideas that dominates today’s studio-Hollywood.

== More Comet News ==

Rosetta-probe-ESA-space1200Eau de comet? The Rosetta Probe sniffs Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — and detects odors resembling “rotten eggs and horse pee” — also known as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and formaldehyde.

Thousands of comets observed flickering in and out near the new solar system of Beta Pictoris.

Bizarre Pyramid on Comet 67P? “It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder’s cracks. But, of course, it is much too early to be sure,” comments researcher Holger Sierks.”  Um again, this is exactly as my thesis forecast, way back in 1980. (Hey, you’d preen about that too😉

==Space Updates==

NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans. It’s about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon’s company has restored.

B6-12The Sentinel program – developing satellites that can warn in advance of medium/small asteroids on collision course – reveals in vivid detail what the U.S. Defense Department had heretofore (for unfathomable reasons) deemed secret — that from 2000 to 2013 there were twenty-six “nuke-level” incidents, when meteors of asteroidal scale exploded in the atmosphere, delivering from one to six-hundred kilotons of energy. A “city killer” strikes Earth once per century, though the greatest danger is if one of these events ever took place in a touchy region, possibly sending itchy trigger fingers racing for buttons.

Watch the video… then consider participating.

Want another worry? Earth’s magnetic north pole has been speeding up in its movement and this year passed its closest to true north. Interesting… and sci fi worrisome.

How cool is this? “Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.”

Meanwhile, I am helping my friend Jon Lomberg (creator of Hawaii’s famous “Galaxy Garden” and co-creator of Carl Sagan’s Voyager Record) in his effort to get a similar trove of human wisdom and art stored aboard the New Horizons probe after it finishes doing science, screaming past Pluto next year.

== And yet more inspiring science! ==

Scientific American asks: “Conspiracy theorists may wonder, why does NASA’s next major telescope director need top secret clearance?” Interesting indeed. “The Webb telescope is being planned as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer at some of the farthest reaches of space and time. The $8.8-billion observatory is due to launch in 2018.” Past Space Telescope directors did not need clearance. But in fact, I believe that this event has little to do with the Webb Telescope. Remember that NASA just took delivery of two Hubble class Keyhole space telescopes, no longer needed by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. I guess they want to be sure that, in converting those scopes for scientific work, sensitive tech does not leak . On the other hand, what if the Webb is being used as a civilian cover operation for next generation spook craft, just as the Hubble had been? Maybe an even bigger reason.

gamma-ray-burstsGamma Ray Bursters as cullers of life: “Only at the outskirts of the Milky Way, at more than 10 kpc from the galactic center, this probability drops below 50%. When considering the Universe as a whole, the safest environments for life (similar to the one on Earth) are the lowest density regions in the outskirts of large galaxies and life can exist in only ~ 10% of galaxies.” Interesting hypothesis. On the role of GRBs on life extinction in the Universe, by Tsvi Piran, Raul Jimenez.

Tiny diamond nano threads could someday support a space elevator?

Ten horrifying technologies that should never exist, by George Dvorsky, citing weaponized nanotechnology, brain hacking devices, weaponized pathogens…and more terrors.

Will “torpor” let us put astronauts into suspension (as in 2001, saving resources for deep space missions? As I mentioned earlier, this work is funded by us at NIAC… actually, one of the less plausible grants, in the next decade or two.  But good press!

7m9evHeh cute visualization to put things in perspective; How close is our closest neighbor, our moon “It’s tempting to think it’s much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer)….It turns out it’s far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare, ” notes astronomer Christian Ready. 

Here’s one rule of thumb.  The distance from Earth to moon is ten times Earth’s circumference.  So wind a measuring tape ten times round the equator.  That should do it.   In fact… now that I put it that way, I am starting to suspect….

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