Category: Space & Physics

Space Wars Will Look Nothing Like Star Wars

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 15, 2018 12:22 pm
(Credit: Adam Hartman/U.S. Navy)

(Credit: Adam Hartman/U.S. Navy)

Darting spaceships. Dazzling lasers. Fiery explosions. All of these are things that a war in space would almost certainly not involve.

Ever since Star Wars, the public has been fascinated by the visuals of space conflict — it’s futuristic, thrilling, and cosmic battles are bereft of the gore that so often accompanies terrestrial conflict. And ever since Sputnik, humans have been putting things into space, pieces of technology that are now vital cogs in the machinery of society. We rely on satellites for everything from credit card transactions to mapping apps. The military needs satellites for communication, as well as for the imaging that lets them keep an eye on friend and foe alike.

Therefore, forget about the Death Star, this amalgamation of blinking hardware floating in Earth’s orbit would be target numero uno. But would it be wise to pull the trigger? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology

Pulsars Could Guide Autonomous Spacecraft of the Future

By Amber Jorgenson | January 16, 2018 10:45 am

A pulsar (pink, center) at the center of the galaxy Messier 82. (Credit: NASA)

Although it’s possible for space missions to communicate data with Earth, the process is anything but fast. Voyager 1, for example, takes about 19 hours to send a signal back to Earth, and that lag only increases as the spacecraft gets further away.  For truly long-term, deep space missions, the significant amount of time it takes to send a signal isn’t going to cut it. The spacecraft will need to adjust its own trajectory without relying on ground navigation. That’s where pulsars come in.

Last week, a group of NASA engineers showed that fully autonomous space navigation is possible through the use of X-rays, a discovery that could overhaul our approach to deep space travel. The X-ray guidance system was successfully tested during the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment. Using  pulsars timed down to the millisecond, the test craft relied on X-rays to pinpoint the location of a space object moving at thousands of miles per hour. Read More

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

A Day Isn’t Actually 24 Hours And Other Weird Solstice Facts

By Eric Betz | December 21, 2017 3:21 pm
(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Those of us brave souls who inhabit America’s northern climes know that it’s not the cold that brings on the winter blues. You go to work and it’s dark. You leave work and it’s dark. The sun? What’s that?

Indeed, as I post this at 3:30 p.m., the sun is already nearing the horizon. The sky above is dark. Today — the Winter Solstice — the sun will set at 4:20 p.m. here in Milwaukee. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

Satellite ‘License Plates’ Could Prevent a Disaster in Low Earth Orbit

By David Palmer | December 18, 2017 1:44 pm


Space may look vast, but it’s actually pretty crowded near Earth.

As of a couple of years ago, more than 1,300 active satellites orbited Earth, in addition to tens of thousands of dead satellites, discarded rockets and other bits and pieces that have accumulated in space in the 60 years since Sputnik, ranging in size from softballs to school buses. When we turn on a new radar in a few years that can see even smaller pieces, we are going to see millions of them. Read More

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

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

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

(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

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


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