Category: Space & Physics

The Mysterious Asteroid Behind the Year’s Best Meteor Shower

By Eric Betz | December 13, 2017 10:35 am
Geminids over ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile in 2013. Image: ESO/G. Lombardi

Geminids over ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile in 2013. (Credit: ESO/G. Lombardi)

Step outside after dark this week and you can watch chunks of an asteroid burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Behold, the Geminid meteor shower, which is renowned as the year’s best.

At peak Geminids, you could catch a shooting star every minute, and this year the moon won’t be bright enough to foul the show. That main action arrives just past 9 p.m. local time Wednesday and lasts until dawn. “The Geminids are rich in fireballs and bright meteors so that makes them very good to observe,” says Bill Cooke, who runs NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

The Atomic Age: Far More Than Explosions and Electricity

By Carl Engelking | December 1, 2017 6:53 pm
Scientists witness the first self-sustained fission reaction.

Scientists witness the first nuclear fission chain reaction. (Credit: John Cadel/Chicago History Museum)

Seventy-five years ago, the world officially entered the Atomic Age. Henceforth, it would never be the same.

In October 1942, as part of the Manhattan Project, Enrico Fermi assembled a crack team of physicists for an urgent, top-secret government mission: Conduct the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction to prove it was indeed possible to build an atomic weapon—and do it before the Germans. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

Close Calls Nearly Doomed These Space Missions

By K. N. Smith | December 1, 2017 2:21 pm
mariner-10

The Mariner 10 spacecraft experienced several problems, but nonetheless accomplished its goals, thanks to a smart mission team and some quick fixes. (Credit: NASA)

A tiny problem can have huge consequences for a space mission. Sometimes a huge endeavor hinges on the smallest detail — three seconds’ worth of fuel, an engineer’s stubbornness, a speck of paint, or a 1.3-millimeter calibration.

When surprise glitches revealed themselves after launch, it took massive efforts to save the missions that gave us a closer look at Mercury, a tour of the outer solar system, our only glimpse of Titan’s surface, and an incredible view of the early universe. But even with hundreds of people putting in months of work, a few of these missions only succeeded by a razor-thin margin. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

How Visionaries Planned to Reach the Moon 500 Years Ago

Map of the moon engraved by the astronomer Johannes Hevelius, 1645. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

People have been dreaming about space travel for hundreds of years, long before the arrival of the spectacular technologies behind space exploration today – mighty engines roaring fire and thunder, shiny metal shapes gliding in the vastness of the universe.

We’ve only traveled into space in the last century, but humanity’s desire to reach the moon is far from recent. In the second century AD, Lucian’s True History, a parody of travel tales, already pictured a group of adventure seekers lifted to the moon. A whirlwind delivered them into the turbulence of lunar politics – a colonial war. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Hey Kim, Stephen Hawking’s PhD Thesis Also ‘Broke the Internet’

By James Geach, University of Hertfordshire | October 26, 2017 11:25 am
hawking

(Credit: Shutterstock)

The PhD thesis of perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, was recently made publicly available online. It has proved so popular that the demand to read it reportedly crashed its host website when it was initially uploaded.

But given the complexity of the topic – “Properties of Expanding Universes” – and the fact that Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time is also known as the most unread book of all time, you might benefit from a summary of its main result. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: mathematics, physics

Brazil’s Moon Tree Warrior

By Andrew Jenner | October 2, 2017 3:46 pm
moon-tree-warrior-1

Vilso Cembranel tends to the moon tree he saved from the brink of death. (Credit: Andrew Jenner)

On a warm, windy August day in 1981, a crowd gathered at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa for the final event of the soybean fair that’s held every other year in the small city in southern Brazil.

Schools had let out so local students could attend, along with curious fairgoers and a collection of bigwigs whose rank rose all the way up to João Figueiredo, then the president of Brazil. Speeches were made, the national anthem played, and then, around 1 p.m., a small tree was planted to symbolize a new ecological consciousness that was stirring in the heart of Brazilian farm country.

“The moment the tree was planted, all the city’s church bells started ringing,” recalls Nilso Guidolin, president of the 1981 soybean fair. “It was a joyful moment.” And it was a very special tree: a Sequoia sempervirens, or California redwood, grown from a seed that had traveled to the moon. After being planted with much fanfare, this symbolic tree was forgotten, neglected and abused over the following years. It almost died. It needed a hero. Read More

An Orbital Moon Station Is Our Gateway to Mars

By David Rothery, The Open University | September 29, 2017 4:04 pm
File 20170929 22066 1hu4n1g

Full moon photographed from Earth. (Credit: Gregory H. Revera/wikimedia, CC BY-SA)

The dream of a human habitat in orbit about the moon came a step closer on Sept. 27, when NASA and the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) signed up to a common vision for future human exploration. The project, a follow-up to the International Space Station (ISS), involves a facility placed in orbit somewhere between the Earth and the moon – a region known as cis-lunar space. Seen as a stepping-stone on the way to deeper space exploration, it has been dubbed the Deep Space Gateway, DSG. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

A Steady Diet of TV Could Be Key for Deep Space Travelers

By Jan Van den Bulk, University of Michigan | September 26, 2017 12:14 pm
Astronaut Scott Kelly hosted a Super Bowl 50 party on the International Space Station, but no one came. (Credit: Scott Kelly)

Astronaut Scott Kelly hosted a Super Bowl 50 party on the International Space Station, but no one came. (Credit: Scott Kelly)

No one knows for sure what a long-range space journey will be like for the people on board. Nobody in the history of our species has ever had to deal with the “Earth-out-of-view” phenomenon, for instance. How will it feel to live in close quarters with a small group, with no escape hatch? How will space travelers deal with the prospect of not seeing family or friends for years, or even ever again? How will they occupy themselves for years with nothing much to do?

Researchers do know some things from observing astronauts who’ve stayed in space stations revolving around Earth for long periods of time, people who spent a lot of time shut off from the outside world in isolated regions (such as on polar expeditions) and from experiments with simulated Mars missions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

How the Invention of Zero Yielded Modern Mathematics

By Ittay Weiss | September 20, 2017 2:24 pm
File 20170920 16403 yazsqf

(Credit: Shutterstock)

A small dot on an old piece of birch bark marks one of the biggest events in the history of mathematics. The bark is actually part of an ancient Indian mathematical document known as the Bakhshali manuscript. And the dot is the first known recorded use of the number zero. What’s more, researchers from the University of Oxford recently discovered the document is 500 years older than was previously estimated, dating to the third or fourth century – a breakthrough discovery.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine how you could have mathematics without zero. In a positional number system, such as the decimal system we use now, the location of a digit is really important. Indeed, the real difference between 100 and 1,000,000 is where the digit 1 is located, with the symbol 0 serving as a punctuation mark. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: mathematics

Cassini’s Bittersweet Symphony

By Shannon Stirone | September 15, 2017 12:27 pm
cassini-final-image

Cassini’s final ringscape, taken Sept. 13. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The Cassini team members filled the chairs of mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. As a long-time astronomy journalist, I was invited to witness the end of an era.

At 4:55 a.m. PST, Cassini’s 13-year mission came to a bittersweet end when we lost signal from the spacecraft as it pierced through the cloud tops at Saturn. We’ve gathered in a lecture hall lined with spacecraft models, Voyager, Juno and of course, Cassini. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration
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