So far our galactic adventures have included landing men on the moon, taking pretty pictures of Saturn, and roaming the surface of Mars. So what’s next on NASA’s to-do list? Perhaps snagging an asteroid to keep in our own backyard.
Researchers from the Keck Institute for Space Studies proposed a plan [pdf] in April to bring an asteroid into the moon’s orbit so astronauts can study it up close. How big an asteroid are we talking? Researchers said the sweet spot would be right around 500 tons and 20 feet in diameter—big enough to locate but small enough to transport. After finding such an asteroid, researchers want to send a robotic spacecraft to bag and drag the asteroid into the moon’s orbit. The asteroid would in effect become the moon’s own mini moon. The round-trip journey could take up to a decade, which would give NASA enough time to set up a manned mission to the asteroid to study it up close and personal. So far NASA has not turned the proposal down.
Saturn and Jupiter are examples of gas giants—huge, uninhabitable planets
composed of gas rather than solid matter. Based on observations of these planets and models of their evolution, astronomers have long believed [pdf] that they form by guzzling gas from young stars. This week, courtesy of a telescope in the deserts of Chile, astronomers reported seeing the first direct evidence of gas giant formation.
Astronomers were observing a young star
called HD 142527, some 450 light years from Earth. Like most young stars, HD 142527 is surrounded by a disk of gas and dust—remnants of the star’s conception that continue to circle the star for millions of years . But there was something strange about this particular star’s disk. Astronomers observed a large gap in the gas and dust, which, as reported in Nature this week, they believe is caused by an up-and-coming gas giant.
Thanks to NASA and emerging commercial space flight companies, there will likely be more astronauts in the future, and they’ll be traveling farther and more frequently into space. Space travel has known risks for bones, eyesight and other bodily systems, but a new study is the first to show that space travel could lead to Alzheimer’s disease l
ater in life.
Outside the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field, astronauts are exposed to cosmic radiation. These high-mass, highly-charged particles can penetrate solid objects—spaceships, astronauts and brains included.
Doctors have taken a first stab at outlining medical advice for a type of travel that will likely become much more common in the years ahead: ordinary people taking trips to space.
The advice, published last week in the British Medical Journal, focuses on those individuals with pre-existing conditions who might want to travel to space. Conditions addressed range from the minor—motion sickness, insomnia—to chronic conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis. For motion sickness, for instance, pack a lot of Dramamine. Cardiovascular problems can be staved off with an exercise regimen in advance, and deep vein thrombosis may require a round of preventative drugs. Infections, cancer and pregnancy, the authors suggest, may be cause for a no-fly n0te from your doctor. Read More
Scientists with the Cassini-Huygens mission have just announced they identified a river on Saturn’s moon Titan. The river appears in radar images taken in September of this year by the Cassini spacecraft, a joint project run by NASA and the European and Italian Space Agencies.
The extraterrestrial river extends 250 miles through the moon’s north polar regions before it drains into a large sea called the Ligeia Mare. Since the river’s course is relatively straight, scientists say it likely occurs along a fault line.
The river valley appears dark in the radar image—an indication of a smooth surface—so scientists suggest the river is actually flowing. The liquid between its banks isn’t water, though. In contrast to Earth’s water-based hydrologic cycle, Titan’s cycle operates instead on hydrocarbons such as ethane and methane. Titan is the only other world scientists know to have stable liquid on its surface.
Image courtesy of the European Space Agency.
Yesterday NASA released images from its most recently launched Earth-orbiting satellite, the Suomi NPP. The images it captures demonstrate both the beauty and the benefit that can be gleaned from visions of Earth at night.
The Suomi NPP satellite is significantly more light sensitive than its predecessors. So sensitive, in fact, it can detect the light from a single ship at sea. To put that in numbers: Suomi’s spatial resolution is six times better than the devices that came before it, and the lighting levels show up with 250 times better resolution. And it also has an infrared sensor, which lets it track weather patterns even at night.
Stargazers and knowledge hounds have long been acquainted with Smithsonian’s Universe—a lush, glorious tour of the space that starts just beyond our atmosphere, edited by Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal. The hefty, glossy-paged book has now been revised and updated in a beautiful new edition.
We at Discover would like you to have a copy of your very own. We will be giving it away to the first person who answers this question correctly, in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The crew of the International Space Station would like to wish you very happy holidays this year, and it comes in the form of this pretty timelapse video. On their wishlist? World peace. They’d like to see a little more cooperation on the beautiful blue marble they orbit.
The yellow spots represent icy areas.
Ice? On the planet closest to the Sun? You heard right: Mercury’s northern pole may have craters containing frozen water.
The evidence, presented in three papers published last week in Science, comes from several sources. The Mercury Laser Altimeter, an instrument on the Mercury space probe, MESSENGER, helps scientists map the topography of the planet by firing lasers at its surface and recording the time it takes for the light to return. The instrument also records the intensity of the return beams, and the bright spots reflecting off Mercury’s surface suggest the presence of ice. Read More
An artist’s rendition of planet CFBDSIR2149. The planet’s faint
glow looks blue through an infrared telescope. In visible
light the cold planet would actually appear red.
It’s cold and young and massive. And they call it the wanderer.
Astronomers recently discovered a new planet, named CFBDSIR2149, that is relatively close to our solar system. It is also the first convincing evidence of an accepted but yet unsubstantiated theory of roaming planets.