Eric Knight Inventor. Entrepreneur. Author. Futurist. Business & Internet Pioneer.
Browsing all posts in: Astronomy

Would you like to fly to Mars? Here’s the next best thing…

January 19

time_capsule_to_mars_spacecraft_rendering_for_online_distributionMy company is a proud supporter of the international student team that’s planning to build and fly a small spacecraft to Mars. On board would be a two-inch-diameter titanium “time capsule of humanity” containing perhaps millions of digital photos, videos, audio files, and text messages from people all over the world — including you.

Your digital creations would be stored on new “quartz” media that, by some estimates, will survive on the surface of Mars for up to 300 million years.

This would be the world’s first interplanetary space mission led by a non-government team. Other key mission supporters include MIT and Explore Mars, Inc. Details of the mission can be viewed at this link.

While the students are working on the essential science, they are also looking for creative names for both the spacecraft and the Mars “time capsule” lander. The goal is to unleash the world’s creativity in every aspect of the program. The individuals who submit the chosen names will get special digital allocations in the time capsule’s quartz memory, as well as other unique tributes. To submit your name ideas, visit www.TimeCapuleToMars.com.

After 36 years and 12 billion miles, Voyager 1 crosses into interstellar space — becomes humanity’s “first true starship”

September 12

(CBS)  Covering nearly a million miles a day, NASA’s nuclear-powered Voyager 1 spacecraft, 36 years and 12 billion miles from Earth, has crossed the boundary between the sun’s influence and interstellar space, sailing into the vast gulf between the stars to become humanity’s first true starship, scientists announced Thursday.

“In leaving the (solar system) and setting sail on the cosmic seas between the stars, Voyager has joined the other historic journeys of exploration such as the first circumnavigation of the Earth and the first footprint on the moon,” said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone.

“This historic step is even more exciting because it marks the beginning of a new era of exploration for Voyager, the exploration of the space between the stars.”

To read the full story, click here.   Image courtesy of NASA

See Friday night’s rocket launch to the moon from your backyard!

September 4

Most places on the central East Coast, all the way up to northern New England, will be able to see this Friday night’s maiden launch of America’s new five-stage “Minotaur V” rocket.  It will transport NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft (LADEE) to the moon.

The launch is scheduled for 11:27pm EDT from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Use the associated graphics and your location to determine the number of seconds from launch the rocket will be visible, the direction to look, and how many degrees above the horizon the rocket will appear.   For instance, if you’re in New England, it should be visible 80 seconds after launch, towards the south, about 10 – 15 degrees above the horizon.

The weather forecast for Friday night, at the launch site and for viewing, looks great.

For more information about the moon mission, visit http://www.space.com/22635-american-minotaur-5-rocket-launch-debut.html

Images courtesy of NASA Wallops, Orbital Sciences Corp., and SPACE.com

 

NASA lets Curiosity rover drive itself on Mars with first use of autonomous navigation

August 30

(JPL)  NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars.

This latest addition to Curiosity’s array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.

Using autonomous navigation, or autonav, Curiosity can analyze images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely even beyond the area that the human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time.

On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Curiosity successfully used autonomous navigation to drive onto ground that could not be confirmed safe before the start of the drive. This was a first for Curiosity. In a preparatory test last week, Curiosity plotted part of a drive for itself, but kept within an area that operators had identified in advance as safe.   For the complete article, click here.  Image courtesy of NASA.

Astronaut nearly drowns on spacewalk outside of International Space Station

July 17

astronaut_spacewalk(USA Today)  Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency got into trouble Tuesday. He was performing routine maintenance outside when water started trickling into the back of his helmet.

Spacewalking partner Chris Cassidy, a U.S. astronaut, took a look: “It’s a lot of water. His hair is saturated. It’s in his eyes as well as his nose and mouth.”

Mission Control was alarmed. NASA quickly aborted the spacewalk, cut it short by five hours. Parmitano and Cassidy were ordered back to the U.S. Quest airlock, where they would be out of the deadly vacuum environment in low Earth orbit, and into the relative safety of the space station.

The tide kept rising in Parmitano’s helmet during his 20-minute retreat to the airlock. And yes, NASA said he was in danger of drowning.

“Imagine you’re in a fish bowl,” said David Korth, NASA’s lead spacewalk flight director. “So, go stick your head in a fish bowl and try to walk around, and that’s not anything you would take lightly. And certainly, (spacewalking) is dangerous already.”

Parmitano could not hear or respond to questions after he reentered the airlock.

“Hey, Luca, from Houston, how’re you doing? Give us a status,” astronaut Shane Kimbrough said from Mission Control.

“Luca, did you hear that?” Cassidy asked.

He didn’t.

“Squeeze my hand if you’re fine,” Cassidy said, peering into his crewmate’s visor.

“I’m trying to see him,” Cassidy said. “He looks fine. He looks miserable, but OK.”

NASA is investigating. The initial suspect, a drinking water bag, no longer is thought to be the culprit. Jones, the veteran spacewalker, said his best guess is the leak came from Parmitano’s astronaut underwear.

Astronauts don form-fitting garments called Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garments. They are cooled by chilled water lines running throughout. Jones suspects a rupture in a cooling line near Parmitano’s neck.

“The closest water line to where he was experiencing (trouble) is in the neck area of the LCVG,” Jones said.

For the complete article, click here.   Image courtesy of AP/NASA

Voyager spacecraft surfs solar system’s edge

June 28

[BBC News]  Ed Stone cannot say when the Voyager-1 spacecraft will leave the Solar System, but he believes the moment is close.  The latest data from this extraordinary probe, reported in this week’s Science journal, suggests it is surfing right on the very edge of our Sun’s domain.

The particles streaming away from our star have reduced to a trickle at its present location, 18.5 billion km from Earth.   Particles flying towards it from interstellar space, by contrast, have jumped markedly in the past year.  It all points to an imminent departure, which would make Voyager the first man-made object to cross into the space between the stars.

“It’s hard to imagine there’s another layer between the one we’re in and the outside,” Dr Stone told BBC News. “Topologically, it makes sense that this is the outermost layer. The only question is: how thick is it?”

Launched way back in 1977, the probe has now travelled so far from home that its constant chatter of data takes 17 hours to arrive at the US space agency’s receiving network. And chatter, it does.

Voyager’s instruments are busy sampling the far-flung environment. This has allowed Dr Stone and colleagues to map the shape and reach of the heliosphere – the giant bubble of charged particles blown off from our Sun.

For the complete article, click here  Image courtesy of the BBC and SPL.

Don’t miss the alignment of Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury at sunset on May 26th

May 21

planet-alignment-jupiter-mercury-venusHere’s something fun (and educational for the kids) on this upcoming Sunday, the 26th:  Look to the west in the evening twilight after sunset and you’ll see the triple conjunction of three planets:  Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury.  You’ll need an unobstructed view of the western sky, as the planets will be just above the horizon.  Click here for an excellent article and animation from NASA Science News.  Image courtesy of NASA.

Life on Mars? Curiosity proves Mars had the formula for life

March 12

(LA Times)  “Drilling into the Martian surface in search of signs of ancient life, the Mars Curiosity rover hit the jackpot, NASA said Tuesday.  The intrepid geologist on wheels analyzed a powdered sample pulled out of the Red Planet last month and  discovered some of the basic building blocks of life — and signs of a past environment capable of hosting primitive microbes.  ‘We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and is so supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,’ mission lead scientist John Grotzinger, a Caltech geologist, said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.”   For the complete article, click here.   Image courtesy of NASA

Curiosity rover uses robotic arm to drill into Martian rock [DVICE]

February 10

[DVICE]  NASA reports the Curiosity rover has successfully drilled a hole, 0.63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep into a sample of sedimentary bedrock. Ground control will now use the rover’s robotic arm to collect samples for processing in its self contained laboratory, looking for evidence Mars may have once harbored water.  The agency released a photo of the hole captured by Curiosity, and in a press release NASA’s associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld said, “The most advanced planetary robot ever designed is now a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars.”

Sea Launch Zenit rocket with Intelsat spacecraft fails at launch [BBC News]

February 2

Sea Launch failureA Ukrainian-Russian rocket carrying a US-made telecommunications satellite has plunged into the Pacific Ocean shortly after launch.

The Zenit-3SL rocket, which was being operated from a floating pad south of the Hawaiian islands, failed 40 seconds after the lift-off at 06:56 GMT.

Officials say no-one was hurt as a result of the incident.

Intelsat-27, which weighed some 6.2 tonnes at launch, was to have provided direct-to-home TV services and mobile broadband connections.

Newly spotted comet may outshine the full moon — New Scientist

September 26

Newly spotted comet may outshine the full moonToday, the newfound comet seen [in the accompanying photo] is just a tiny dot in the sky beyond Jupiter. But in about a year, it might be one of the brightest objects in our night sky.

Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia, discovered comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) on 21 September via images taken with a 40-centimetre reflecting telescope. Other sky-watchers soon spotted it, and the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced the find yesterday.

From the combined observations, astronomers were able to trace the comet’s recent path and find images of it dating back to late December 2011. From there they calculated a near-parabolic orbit that has comet ISON headed almost straight towards the sun.

Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy think that ISON will skim less than 1.4 million kilometres from the sun’s surface on 28 or 29 November.

The comet’s orbit also suggests it is a newcomer fresh from the Oort cloud, a distant halo of icy objects that surrounds the solar system. We last had a visitor direct from the cloud in 2009, when the green comet Lulin swooped in and sprouted two tails.

As with Lulin, the intense heat of ISON’s solar fly-by should vaporise the comet’s hard shell of pristine ices, releasing trapped dust that would help it grow an exceptionally bright tail. Astronomy Now magazine reports that comet ISON could even be brighter than the full moon around its closest approach to the sun.

Skirting our star means that, to viewers on Earth, the comet will appear close to the horizon and to the sun’s glare, making it difficult to see at first. ISON will fade but become easier to spot as it heads back towards the outer solar system. By 9 December it should be about as bright as Polaris, the North Star, according to Remanzacco Observatory astronomers. ISON should continue to be visible to the unaided eye until mid-January 2014.

But veteran astronomers warn that fresh comets with orbits that almost skim the sun are notoriously unpredictable. Results can range from the spectacular comet McNaught of January 2007 to the infamously fizzled comet Kohoutek of 1973.

via Short Sharp Science: Newly spotted comet may outshine the full moon.

Spheres spark new Martian mystery – Cosmic Log

September 14

Eight years ago, NASA’s Opportunity rover came across strange-looking spheres that were nicknamed Martian blueberries — and now the rover has sent back a picture showing a different flavor of Marsberry that has the experts scratching their heads.

“This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission,” Cornell astronomer Steve Squyres, the rover mission’s principal investigator, said today in a news release.

The golf-cart-sized Opportunity rover used the microscopic imager on the end of its robotic arm to take a super-close look at the spherical shapes. These particular berries, measuring as much as one-eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) in diameter, cover an outcrop called Kirkwood in the Cape York segment of Endeavour Crater’s western rim.

“Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects,” Squyres said. “Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars.”

via Spheres spark new Martian mystery – Cosmic Log.

35 years after launch, Voyager 1 is heading for the stars

September 4

35 years later, Voyager 1 is heading for the stars - BusinessweekPASADENA, Calif. AP — Thirty-five years after leaving Earth, Voyager 1 is reaching for the stars. Sooner or later, the workhorse spacecraft will bid adieu to the solar system and enter a new realm of space — the first time a manmade object will have escaped to the other side.

When NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 first rocketed out of Earth’s grip in 1977, no one knew how long they would live. Now, they are the longest-operating spacecraft in history and the most distant, at billions of miles from Earth but in different directions.

They’re still ticking despite being relics of the early Space Age. Each only has 68 kilobytes of computer memory. To put that in perspective, the smallest iPod — an 8-gigabyte iPod Nano — is 100,000 times more powerful. Each also has an eight-track tape recorder. Today’s spacecraft use digital memory.

Wednesday marks the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1′s launch to Jupiter and Saturn. It is now flitting around the fringes of the solar system, which is enveloped in a giant plasma bubble. This hot and turbulent area is created by a stream of charged particles from the sun.Outside the bubble is a new frontier in the Milky Way — the space between stars. Once it plows through, scientists expect a calmer environment by comparison.

When that would happen is anyone’s guess. Voyager 1 is in uncharted celestial territory. One thing is clear: The boundary that separates the solar system and interstellar space is near, but it could take days, months or years to cross that milestone.Voyager 1 is currently more than 11 billion miles from the sun. Twin Voyager 2, which celebrated its launch anniversary two weeks ago, trails behind at 9 billion miles from the sun.

via 35 years later, Voyager 1 is heading for the stars – Businessweek.

Curiosity rover’s intriguing geological find on Mars (BBC)

August 28

The Mars rover Curiosity is indulging in a flurry of multimedia activity ahead of its science mission proper.It sent the first image from its 100mm telephoto lens, already spotting an intriguing geological “unconformity”.Nasa also released a colour panorama of Mount Sharp, the rover’s ultimate goal.On Monday, the rover relayed “the first voice recording to be sent from another planet”, and on Tuesday it will broadcast a song from artist will.i.am as part of an educational event.But alongside these show pieces, Curiosity – also known as the Mars Science Laboratory – is already warming up its instruments for a science mission of unprecedented scope on the Red Planet.Nasa said that the rover was already returning more data from Mars than all of the agency’s earlier rovers combined.

via BBC News – Curiosity rover’s intriguing geological find.

As commercial space race intensifies SpaceX, Virgin find they have company | Ars Technica

August 25

While Earthdwellers cast their eyes to Mars this week and waited for news from NASA’s Curiosity, lots of action took place closer to home, where the commercial space market has seen progress from every direction. We’ve rounded up a short summary of what happened back on the home planet.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft team held its Program Implementation Plan Review in Colorado this week, the first milestone in its CCiCap list.

SpaceX completed its COTS (Commercial Orbital Transport Services) agreement this week with a certification from NASA, clearing the way for SPX-1, its first standard cargo flight to the International Space Station.

Orbital Sciences was also slated to fly its Antares rocket for the first time in early October, but there’s no word yet on whether the traffic jam that’s holding up SpaceX will bump them again. Antares is Orbital’s COTS vehicle and a competitor of SpaceX’s Falcon. It has been delayed several times due to launchpad construction at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.

XCOR Aerospace announced this week that they’ll build a new spacecraft factory in Brevard County, Florida, to build its Lynx 2-person suborbital spacecraft. Lynx takes off and lands horizontally and requires a runway, which in Florida means the Shuttle’s landing strip at Kennedy Space Center.

via As commercial space race intensifies SpaceX, Virgin find they have company | Ars Technica.

Wow! Watch Mars rover Curiosity land in amazing high-definition video. Includes audio from Mission Control.

August 24

This movie from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows most of the high-resolution frames acquired by the Mars Descent Imager between the jettison of the heat shield and touchdown. The video, obtained on Aug. 5 PDT Aug. 6 EDT, covers the last two-and-a-half minutes before touchdown in Gale Crater. Audio recorded from mission control can be heard, counting down the critical events.

Astronomers spot humongous star devouring planet (+video)

August 21

Astronomers have spotted a red giant star, some 11 times the mass of our own sun, swallowing up a planet. A similar fate awaits Earth, about five billion years from now.

via Astronomers spot humongous star devouring planet (+video) – CSMonitor.com.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity gears up for test drive

August 21

The next step in NASA’s exploration of Mars is the test drive of its rover, Curiosity, on Wednesday. Curiosity’s mission on Mars is to search for signs of life. The rover’s broken wind sensor may make its exploration more challenging.

via NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity gears up for test drive – CSMonitor.com.

 

NASA to launch another Mars exploration flight

August 20

After driving all around Mars with four rovers, NASA wants to look deep into the guts of the red planet.The space agency decided Monday to launch a relatively low-cost robotic lander in 2016 to check out what makes the Martian core so different from Earth’s.

via NASA to launch another Mars exploration flight | Fox News.

A penny-sized rocket thruster invented at MIT | DVICE

August 19

A penny-sized rocket thruster invented at MIT | DVICE

Satellites, like the people who make them, come in all shapes and sizes. Their parts do as well. And while some thrusters are large and impressive, some satellites need smaller ones. So Paulo Lozano at MIT decided to build a rocket thruster the size of a penny.

The thruster, which looks like anything but, is similar in shape and size to a computer chip. It’s “covered with 500 microscopic tips that, when stimulated with voltage, emit tiny beams of ions. Together, the array of spiky tips creates a small puff of charged particles that can help propel a shoebox-sized satellite forward,” according to Lozano.

The size allows for several thrusters to be put on a single satellite, which could allow it to change orbit and even roll. Though it may not sound it, this is exciting in the world of satellites. Nanosatellites have had trouble with traditional propulsion systems, which allow little space on the them for electronics and communications equipment.

But the microthruster barely adds any weight, allowing for fully-loaded nanosatellites to not only be launched into orbit but to be able to navigate once there.

On Earth, these thrusters are essentially useless. But zero-gravity space presents a very different story. And with the size and flexibility of these thrusters, this could open a new range of possibilities for satellite technology.

via A penny-sized rocket thruster invented at MIT | DVICE.

 

Mars Rock-Zapping Laser Explained | PCWorld

August 18

A rock-zapping laser and telescopic combination called ChemCam is getting a lot of attention with NASA’s rover Curiosity landing on Mars.

But what is it?

Here’s an explainer, as well as more details about the mission.

ChemCam can look at rocks and soils from a distance, fire a laser to vaporize the materials and analyze them with an on-board spectrograph that measures the composition of the resulting plasma. NASA says ChemCam can also use the laser to do less destructive things, such as clear away dust from Martian rocks as well as use a remote camera to acquire extremely detailed images.

Roger Wiens, ChemCam principal investigator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, gave a tutorial on how the instrument works at a recent news conference.

“Curiosity’s remote sensing instrument [is] designed to make a large number of rapid measurements in some sense to help guide the rover to the most interesting samples,” he said.

He also talked about ChemCam’s imaging capability and said in routine operation the team plans to take images either before or after the laser operation or both, but not during the laser operation.

“The camera is very high resolution. It’s sensitive enough to image a human hair quite easily by 7 feet away,” he said.

After nearly two weeks on the dusty red planet, Curiosity is doing warm-up exercises and getting ready to take off for its first drilling for a rock sample — to a place 1,300 feet away scientists have named Glenelg, a spot where three kinds of terrain intersect.

In the next few days, the one-ton, six-wheeled mobile Mars laboratory will exercise each of its four steerable wheels, turning each of them side-to-side before ending up with each wheel pointing straight ahead. Curiosity will continue warming up by driving forward about 10 feet, turning 90 degrees and then reversing about 7 feet.

Tonight the rover will zap its first rock — one which scientists have dubbed “Rock N165,” a three-inch wide Mars rock that sits about 10 feet away from Curiosity.

“It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too,” Wiens said.

via Mars Rock-Zapping Laser Explained | PCWorld.

SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR — that’s how NASA describes the audacious landing maneuver of the Mars rover set to land on Aug. 5th

July 15

In the most complex rocket-landing ever attempted, NASA will literally drop its latest Mar rover onto the Mars surface by a crane from a hovering mother ship. Really!

A year ago (July 12, 2011), I gave you a heads up on NASA’s marvel of planetary-exploration technology in my blog post:  “Take a peek at NASA’s next Mars rover. It’s the size of a Mini Cooper!

Well, the rover’s 354-million-mile, eight-and-half-month journey is just about over.   “Curiosity” — the nickname for this out-of-this-world vehicle — is poised to land on the Red Planet.

Check out a superb article by UK’s DailyMail — with photos, illustrations, and spine-tingling landing animation — here:  http://bit.ly/NVBY32

Get ready for a wild ride on August 5th.  Buckle up!

Illustration courtesy of NASA

Solar storm could disrupt Summer Olympics (UPI)

March 25

(UPI) — The Summer Olympics could be crippled by a solar storm far more potent than the one currently wearing away at Earth’s magnetic field, a British physicist said.

“We have the potential this year to see what planners call a Black Swan event — one that is unlikely but if it happens will have an extraordinary impact on our lives,” Alan Woodward, a physicist and computer scientist at England’s University of Surrey, told the British newspaper The Guardian.

Radiation from the superfast bombardment of highly charged clouds of solar energy would likely pose little or no health risk. But it could disable computers and other electronics critical to the Olympic Games, which take place in London July 27 through Aug. 12, Woodward said.

“As the 2012 Olympics approach, we have a convergence of an event that is the most connected, computer-intensive event ever with a record level of sunspot activity, which typically leads to solar flares,” he said.

Solar flares are colossal releases of energy rocketed out into space that have been measured to be the equivalent of as much as 160 billion megatons of TNT.

To read the complete article, visit http://bit.ly/GNPrnL

Image courtesy UPI

December 21, 2012? End of the world? Don’t pawn your jewelry just yet…

February 26

Doomsday prognosticators are touting the impending apocalypse on December 21, 2012.  Most base their prophecies on the supposed “end” of the Mayan calendar.

NASA scientists reviewed the top five earth-destruction scenarios — including a collision with yet-to-be-discovered planet “Nibiru” and the sudden flipping of Earth’s magnetic poles — and have offered their opinions on each.  Check out http://on.msnbc.com/ywIXon

Photo courtesy of gilderm / sxc.hu

Shirt-sleeve Earth-like planet discovered: Kepler-22b

December 5

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered an Earth-like planet with balmy 70-degree temperatures: “Kepler-22b”.  The plant is 2.4 times the diameter of Earth, and orbits its sun in 290 days.

But we won’t be visiting anytime soon, as the planet is 600 light years away.  How far is 600 light years?  Well, consider that light travels 186,287 miles each second.  Now multiply 186,287 miles times the number of seconds in 600 years.  Whew!

Scientists have pointed the 42 dish antennas that comprise California’s Allen Telescope Array on Kepler-22b to see if it can detect any radio waves — to perhaps catch a Keplerian broadcast of “Dancing with the Stars” (sorry — couldn’t resist that).

Something to think about:  If scientists on Kepler-22b were scanning Earth for radio or TV broadcasts, they wouldn’t hear anything.  Radio waves travel at the speed of light.  So, they’d be examining Earth as it was 600 years ago — and radio was invented here less than 150 years ago.

For additional details about this planetary discovery, including a video of the mission managers discussing their find, check out the following article in the San Jose Mercury News:  http://bit.ly/smOSZF

Artist’s conception courtesy of NASA / Ames/ JPL-Caltech

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