This morning’s launch of SpaceX’s third Dragon capsule has the twittersphere all a-flutter. Falcon 9’s blastoff from Cape Canaveral initially appeared to be a success. Read More
If you live along the Eastern seaboard, keep an eye on the sky tonight. NASA will be launching a rocket sometime between 5:30 and 6:50 p.m. EST from its flight facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.
The rocket is a practice run for two upcoming space observation missions. It will be loaded with two different kinds of lithium canisters. Once ignited, the lithium will vaporize and produce two cloud-like trails that will appear red in the sky. Since they are higher in the atmosphere they will be illuminated by the sun, even though it will no longer be visible from ground level. Assuming a clear night, the vapor trails should be visible to the naked eye along the length of the East Coast, from Canada to Florida, for a short time.
It looks like an astronaut. It acts like an astronaut. And here, on January 2, it operates the valves on a task board like an astronaut.
Robonaut 2 is the second iteration of NASA’s attempts to put a human-like robot in space, and he is fast approaching his second anniversary aboard the International Space Station. In this case he is taking directions from a crew on Earth to operate a slew of valves in the Destiny Laboratory, but he can also be controlled by his fellow astronauts in space or complete certain tasks all on his own.
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.
This striking image represents the chemical composition of Martian sand recently collected by the Curiosity rover. Analysis of it reveals that Martian dirt is similar to volcanic soil from Hawaii, containing crystalline feldspar, pyroxene and olivine. To create this image, the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument bombarded sand samples with X-rays, which bounce off in different patterns depending on the sample composition, allowing scientists to figure out which chemicals are present and in what quantities.
Image via NASA
An illustration of the descent
While the Cassini probe has been taking the gorgeous pictures of Saturn we know and love, its little buddy and traveling companion, the Huygens lander, has been on the surface of the moon Titan. A just-published reconstruction of what happened when Huygens hit Titan’s surface eight years ago gives insight into what the ground on the methane-soaked body is like: something like damp sand, or perhaps crusty snow.
On the left, shifting hormone levels over time. On the right, work (gray) and sleep (black) hours of NASA staff on Martian time gradually cycle around the clock.
Mars has an ever-so-slightly longer day than we do: 24 hours and 39 minutes, to be exact. To control solar-powered rovers like Phoenix and Curiosity, NASA teams must shift their sleeping cycles to match, and it’s a lot harder than it sounds: that fraction of an hour extra means that their sleep schedules creep every day, so while 1 pm might be the middle of the night one week, say, it will have become breakfast time by the next. Staying on Mars time is so grueling that staff for the Sojourner rover in 1997 bailed on the schedule a third of the way through the mission.
To keep droplets of liquid floating in midair, the device in the video above relies on a hum of sound just above the range of human hearing. This technology, called an acoustic levitator, suspends these tiny balls of liquid using two speakers that project sound waves in opposite directions, counteracting the force of gravity. Originally, NASA developed the device to simulate microgravity. Now researchers at Argonne National Lab are using it as a way to evaporate drug compounds in midair so they take on a more potent chemical form than they would in a container.
On the left, you see a perfectly innocent, three-inch wide section of Mars regolith, going about its business. On the right, you see the same regolith after being subjected to the ministrations of one of the Curiosity rover’s most exciting tools, a laser drill.
On August 25, the laser slammed into each of the five spots visible above 50 times. Each time, it struck with a million-plus watts of power for five one-billionths of a second. This incredible power got the dust to glow, and from its glow, the rover’s built-in spectrometer deduced the dust’s chemical content.
Fire maps show the locations all over the world where wild and man-made fires are going on, based on data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. And when you combine fire maps from the past 12 years, you get a video where flames trace recurring patterns across the globe, from summer wildfires in Canada to agricultural burning in Africa and Southeast Asia.