Monday, June 01, 2015

Looking Upward and Outward...

Let's all knock on wood or send good vibes or just hopes out to the Planetary Society's little Project LightSail! Yes, the Japanese IKAROS craft broke the 60 year jinx on deployment and testing of the solar sail concept... but only just barely. LightSail will set important milestones toward opening up the solar system.

Follow the progress of the Planetary Society's crowd-funded LightSail Mission  --  a test flight was launched last month; a second demonstration is planned for 2016. Join me in donating to support solar sailing into the future...or even send your selfie to space with LightSail.

 Asteroid Day, June 30, is a global awareness campaign where people from around the world come together to learn about asteroids and learn what we can do to protect our planet, communities and future generations from asteroid impacts. The main events - with VIP receptions - will be at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and in London -- sponsored in partnership with the B6-12 Foundation's Sentinel Mission. Find local events in your area or start your own!

== Looking to the Skies ==

Rogue stars...As many as half of all stars in the universe may lie in the vast gulfs of space between galaxies.  This result has far-reaching consequences.  It means that many more stars have been ejected from their home galaxies by galactic encounters.  If verified, it means that inter-galactic space is less empty than we thought. This jibes with other recent results, that Andromeda galaxy may be surrounded by a huge halo of added material… 

… and it suggests that regular, baryonic matter may be closer to equal than we thought, to the presumed quantity of so-called “dark matter” physicists have been looking for.  All told, stunning times to be alive.

(And there are those who refuse to enjoy any of this! Preferring to dismiss science as “irrelevant” to important matters. Wow. That fact, itself, is simply mind-blowing.)

See a special feature on How the Hubble Space Telescope changed the cosmos!

Meanwhile, the Hubble has been up there long enough to catch changes in faraway galaxies.  A fierce jet, spewing from the central black hole of one of the brightest galaxies of them all, appears to feature fast lumps catching up violently with slower lumps.  Wow.  We need to be a people who do science over long spans!  

Hubble has observed a unique, rapidly evolving, Wolf-Rayet star -- never before observed in the Milky Way Galaxy -- nicknamed "Nasty 1."

A new radio telescope array developed by a consortium led by Caltech and now operating at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory has the ability to image simultaneously the entire sky at radio wavelengths with unmatched speed, helping astronomers to search for objects and phenomena that pulse, flicker, flare, or explode. Our new telescope lets us see the entire sky all at once, and we can image everything instantaneously," says Gregg Hallinan, an assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech and OV-LWA's principal investigator.  

Whole sky surveys of transient events will be of great importance for another reason!  To quickly discover events pertinent to ... SETI

== Mission Updates ==

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency plans to send a compact car-sized probe into orbit around Mars in July of 2020. The UAE’s stated goal is to become an ambitious player in the burgeoning $300 billion a year global space industry. The Al-Amal probe will study the ways Mars lost its atmosphere and became a desert world.  Seems apropos.  

A new Mars Lander is scheduled to launch in March 2016 and is called InSight, a very NASA abbreviation for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport." InSight will analyze the deep interior of Mars to better understand the seismological processes that shaped the geology of the rocky planets. 

The ExoMars missions (sponsored by the ESA and the Russian Space Agency) will search for signs of life on Mars (past or present) -- to be launched from 2016 through 2018.  

Watch live! NASA's "Flying Saucer" LDSD test flight -- the disc-shaped Low Density Supersonic Decelerator will test landing technologies for future Mars Missions.

Cassini has just taken its last close-up look at Saturn's large irregular moon, Hyperion -- and in mid June, it will pass just 321 miles above Saturn's icy moon Dione.

Ceres: NASA image

Wow! Close-ups of Ceres from the Dawn spacecraft are getting better and better… along with improved views of those mysterious (though probably icy) bright spots.  

Gregory Benford offers a terrific and moving article about both the scientific and science-fiction wonders of Pluto... as we near the epochal New Horizons encounter in July -- New Horizons is sending back ever more detailed images of Pluto

The scientific instruments that will be aboard the (generally conceived) mission to Europa have been chosen.  A potent mix of great experiments!  Still I am confused.  The mission won’t orbit Europa itself but swing past it, forty or so times, in order to mostly stay away from the worst of Jupiter’s radiation belts.  So… in fact it is a Jupiter mission that will emphasize Europa.  This article doesn’t go into that. Can anyone link to one that does?  

A look at the far side of the moon. Click the videoThe Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has completed a maneuver that lowered the spacecraft’s orbit to within 20 kilometers (12 miles) above areas near the lunar South Pole, where ice lingers in shaded cold spots.  Wow that’s close.

Looking for gravitational waves:The Advanced LIGO gravitational wave detection system is coming online.

== Solving the problems of the future ==

Huh.  Talk of equipping the International Space Station with a laser that could blast dangerous space debris out of the sky before it comes close to the ISS.

Will we get Solar Power from space? This video portraying the construction and operation of a GEO space solar power system is very well made… and kinda inspiring.  The contest it was entered in was won by a team supported by the Chinese government.  Worth noting.  Just 3000 of these could entirely replace the three cubic miles of oil (equivalent) of fossil fuel the human race uses each year. “By the early 2030s if we got on it soon,” says system architect Keith Henson.  

And finally...

Will future space exploration be left to robots... or will humans venture out there? In Beyond: Our Future in Space, University of Arizona astronomer Chris Impey examines our urge to explore -- and the technologies (space elevators, asteroid mining, 3D printing, suspended animation) that will propel the next century of exploration and colonization, as we head toward this new frontier.

"Surprised as they were, the astronomers that discovered the four quasars inside the rare giant nebula, made up of cool, dense hydrogen gas, they merrily decided to call it the ”Jackpot Nebula”.  Quasars are the early, blaring-loud and extravagant eating phases of the black holes at galactic centers. So… FOUR of them in one nebula?  I gotta wonder if this science "journalist" pulled a boner.  But interested!  Anyone got confirmation?  

Legends of an Australian aboriginal tribe tell of a fire demon from the sky… striking exactly where there is now a national meteorite reserve.


Alex Tolley said...

I gotta wonder if this science "journalist" pulled a boner. But interested! Anyone got confirmation?

Quasar Quartet Embedded in Giant Nebula Reveals Rare Massive Structure in Distant Universe

Alfred Differ said...

I had pleasure of supporting my professor at Clark Lake for a full week after our week on a small scope at Flagstaff. It was the combination that convinced me to not become an astronomer. I learned lots seeing their TeePee array operating, but I moved toward the theory side of physics after that. I wasn't quite enough of a hermit to want to work like that. 8)

There is a lot of interesting work to be done at long wavelengths. Useful constraints on theory can be found down there.

Paul SB said...

The INSIGHT lander is carrying a seismometer, but one seismometer us not going to get a lot of bang for the buck. It would be much more useful to have a network of several seismometers delivered by very small, cheap vehicles to multiple regions of the planet. One seismometer is a start, but you can't even locate an epicenter with only one.

SteveO said...

Hey all, there is a possibility that I'll be working peripherally with the Hope probe. On the business side of things, but still...

David Dorais said...

Re: rogue stars between galaxies...During my time as an amateur astronomer the estimate for the population number for stars IN the Milky Way has been variously- 100 billion, then later 200, even later 260, and now either 200 or 400 billion. This strikes me as a similar lack of precision cosmology used to have over the age of the universe, which for a long time was either 10 billion years or 20 billion. Now it is 13.74-.81 billion years. At least a little more precise. How do we get the astronomers to be more precise or at least consistent about THIS stellar population estimate?

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Astronomers got more precise as they got more evidence, so just give them more money to build spiffy instruments. 8)

There was a time when the age of the universe estimate was lower and had to come up to the 10-20 billion year range. That underestimate was probably more about a lack of imagination since the universe has turned out to be stranger than we could imagine... and that's a wonderful thing.

The underestimate for star populations reminds me a bit of story I read years ago. Tau Zero. They kept missing the mass density estimates and had to keep revising their plans. That story taught me to be skeptical of claims of knowledge regarding bounds that aren't backed by anything more than theory.

Paul SB said...

Steve O. - Cool beans! Any way you can be a part of a project like that you are doing good things for humanity, even if it's just a small part. It puts you miles ahead of all those people who just feed their faces, and mega-parsecs beyond those fools who say we should shut down the patent office and bury our heads in the sand...

Doug said...

So if half of all stars are out in the vast intergalactic dark, and the naked eye can only see stars out to about 10,000 light years, all any equivalent intelligent life should be able to see in the night sky are some dim distant galaxies and the occasional supernova. Sort of Asimov's "Nightfall" in reverse.

sociotard said...

David, why do robots need to avoid radiation belts? What on them would break?

Tony Fisk said...

@sociotard. The micro-electronics are gradually fried by high energy particle collisions.

I understand it can vary with choice of semi-conductor. Even so, craft like Juno (due to go into orbit around Jupiter with its intense radiation belts next year) are not expected to have an active lifespan of more than a couple of years.

Jumper said...

Check out all the animations not just this one
Pluto-Charon is a double planet; the moons orbit farther out around their common center, and the tides make weird shapes and near-chaotic rotating nutations. Weird.

Paul451 said...

As Tony said. Electronics not like radiation. Apparently the efficiency of PV arrays can drop by 50% after just a couple of passes, and become damaged to the point of uselessness after a few dozen. This is an issue with using SEP to slowly raise the apogee of a satellite or probe (or cargo-ship for a manned mission) over a long period. By the time you're out of the Van Allen belts the solar arrays are shot.

Not only elongated, but apparently while Nix and Hydra are icy-white reflective like Pluto/Charon; Kerberos, which orbits between them, is black as coal.

Speculation is that the moons are debris left over from the impact that formed Charon, and while Nix/Hydra are debris from Pluto, same as that which formed Charon, Kerberos is a chunk of the dark impactor.

(This from images taken while still further from the Pluto system than the Earth is from the Sun, taken through an 8-inch telescope with a 1024×1024 pixel mono CCD.)

Jumper said...
summarizes most of the other news.

Ioan said...


Radiation isn't that big a problem for the JUNO spacecraft, which is dealing with the Jupiter radiation environment. As per Wikipedia "Only 486 W will be generated when Juno arrives at Jupiter, declining to 420 W as radiation degrades the cells". I'm assuming that is over the primary mission lifetime? We don't know what the minimum power requirement is before they have to shut instruments down. Perhaps the panels can be degraded further before a lack of power becomes a problem? Keep in mind that this follows a 5 year journey there. In short, radiation is a problem, but it's not as big as you make it out to be.


Remember this is NASA. It looks bad for the team to not complete their primary mission. Plus, it makes the mission look cheaper if the cost of the full lifespan isn't factored in. So the primary mission lifespan has been ridiculously short. There are exceptions, such as the Phoenix lander, where the onset of winter ended the mission. However, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that the Juno spacecraft IS an exception.

Tony Fisk said...

No burden of proof on me at all. It will either fail, like Spirit, or keep on chugging, like Opportunity.

The current plan is to ditch Juno at the end of the primary mission. As you say, though, circumstances may change.

A.F. Rey said...

Andromeda galaxy may be surrounded by a huge halo of added material…
… and it suggests that regular, baryonic matter may be closer to equal than we thought, to the presumed quantity of so-called “dark matter” physicists have been looking for.

Forgive the freshman question, but as I recall from my college days, dark matter was first suspected when astronomers noticed there was not enough mass to keep galaxies together. Gravatational force would need to be 2 to 10 times larger than the visible mass to keep the visible stars in some galaxies from dissapating.

Adding mass to the periphery of a galaxy would not significantly increase the gravatational force within the visible part of the galaxy, since it would basically cancel itself out (just like the mass outside of a radius within a planet cancels itself out, leaving only the mass within the radius to produce a pull).

So while the extra mass from dark stars outside of the visible area of Andromeda would help fill out the total mass of the universe, I don't see how it would help explain the dark matter that holds Andromeda together.

sociotard said...

Check out the pretty garden footbridge getting built in London

Definitely pretty, but it is getting a lot of flack for being expensive, probably only going to get used by the wealthy, isn't essential infrastructure, and people would rather the govt address the housing shortage in London.

Alfred Differ said...

Adding mass at the periphery flattens the rotation curve for a galaxy. They expected a Keplerian curve once one is out of the dense core and got something quite different. One way to get closer to what was observed was to assume more mass at the edge and beyond, but they couldn't see it. The rotation curve was the only real evidence for it in the early days.

Jumper said...

I wonder about dark planets in the interstellar voids, and how much mass resides in them. Insignificant, significant? Possible for them to be far more numerous than assumed?

Tim H. said...

Nichelle Nicols has had a mild stroke:

David Brin said...


Howard Miller said...

There's only one thing worth travelling interstellar distance to find, and that's information. If there was a thing called unobtanium found naturally on a moon called Pandora, it would be cheaper to synthesize it from a quark-gluon plasma than it would be to ship giant bulldozers to dig it up.
There are plenty of people who would leap at the chance to travel to another star, even if they knew in advance there would be no knowledge, no wealth to be gathered, no fresh planet for a new start for humanity, but it would all be a waste of resources.
The thing we need from the universe around us is information. Just while staying at home, we've already garnered a lot of it. What if we could gather all the information the universe has to offer without ever leaving home?
(Waving my hands here) what if there was a universal internet we could tap into? An internet that could connect us to other civilizations in the universe in some kind of instantaneous way? This internet would be driven by an information economy. Just the history of our own solar system would be valuable. Our cultures, beliefs, even personal histories are all things someone somewhere would pay for, maybe using something like bitcoin. In return, we could buy access to information we're interested in.
I think that if such a thing came to be, we might lose interest in traveling outside our own solar system. We could just log on and get images of beings, creatures, and vistas from all over the universe.
Maybe that's the answer to Fermi's Paradox. Once the universal internet is found, everyone loses interest in actually visiting other stars.