Category: Space & Aliens Therefrom

In the Glorious Future, Could Space Travel Be Poop-Powered?

By Jennifer Welsh | November 18, 2010 12:04 pm

PoopSatSince we’re experimenting with using human excrement to power all kinds of things on earth, from buses and cars to natural gas for our homes, why not try renewable poop power in space?

That’s the mission adopted by a team at the Florida Institute of Technology–they hope to bring the flexibility and sustainability of poop power to space. As a first step towards that goal, they’re testing the ability of a special hydrogen-creating bacteria, called Shewanella MR-1, to live aboard a UN satellite, says Fast Company:

The goal is, to put it bluntly, to see if Shewanella can convert astronaut feces into hydrogen for use in onboard fuel cells. “The bacteria generates hydrogen. If we give waste to bacteria, it converts to hydrogen that could be used in a fuel cell. We’re looking at how reliable the bacteria are,” explains Donald Platt, the Program Director for the Space Sciences and Space Systems Program at the Florida Institute of Technology.

The bacteria will be going up on the UN’s first satellite, a $5 million project by the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that will stay in space for five years. The satellite is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2011. If the bacteria are able to successfully grow in space, this project might lead the way to recycling the astronaut waste of the future, instead of freeze drying the excrement and turning it into a shooting star.

Related content:
Discoblog: Is Muskrat Poop the Next Penicillin?
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Discoblog: Could Poop Fuel Our Future? New Sewage-Powered Buses Hint at Yes
Discoblog: This Poop Mobile Could Get All Its Energy From 70 Homes’ Worth of Methane
80beats: Thrifty Brits Make Natural Gas out of Sewage and Beer-Brewing Leftovers
80beats: Meet the Genetically Engineered Pig With Earth-Friendly Poop
80beats: New Plasma Thruster Powers a Coke Can Rocket—and Could Power Satellites

Image: UNESCO

How Not to Get a Flat on the Moon: Use a Spring-Packed Super Tire

By Jennifer Welsh | November 15, 2010 1:28 pm

moontireFuture Mars rovers or moon buggies might be riding the wings of Goodyear spring-based tires. This high-tech tire just won a 2010 R&D 100 award, also known as the “Oscar of Innovation,” from the editors of R&D magazine.

The tire was invented last year in a joint effort between NASA and Goodyear, and was tested out on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover at the Rock Yard at the Johnson Space Center. The spring tire builds upon previous versions of the moon tire, and the improvements enable it to take larger (up to 10 times) rovers up to 100 times further, NASA scientists explained to Gizmag:

“With the combined requirements of increased load and life, we needed to make a fundamental change to the original moon tire,” said Vivake Asnani, principal investigator for the project at NASA’s Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland. “What the Goodyear-NASA team developed is an innovative, yet simple network of interwoven springs that does the job. The tire design seems almost obvious in retrospect, as most good inventions do.”

The tire is made up of 800 helical springs, which simulate the flexibility of an air-filled tire. Because there are so many springs, the tire can’t completely fail all at once, like a punctured air-filled tire would, Asnani said in the Goodyear press release:

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Impact: Earth! Lets You Smash Your Home Planet to Bits

By Jennifer Welsh | November 4, 2010 2:47 pm

impact-earthEver felt the inclination to go all Armageddon on the whole planet? Well now you can let those feelings loose through a new asteroid impact simulator from Purdue University and Imperial College London.

Sure, the Impact: Earth! simulator is fun to play with, but researcher John Spray told Time that it’s an important research tool as well:

“The calculator is a critical tool for determining the potential consequences of an impact…. It is widely used by government and scientific agencies as well as impact research groups and space enthusiasts around the world.”

The simulator is actually an update to the basic tool already used by astronomers and governments to study how an impact would change Earth, to plan for post-disaster scenarios, and to explore asteroid- and comet-deflection technologies. When our planet was young many more space objects crashed into the Earth; while the barrage has slowed, small bits of debris still frequently fly into our atmosphere, says Time:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

Want to Watch a Mars Rover Being Built? There's a Webcam for That

By Eliza Strickland | October 21, 2010 4:06 pm

curiosity-camWant to see your tax dollars at work? There’s a more exciting way to do it than watching a road crew pour asphalt for the latest highway expansion. Now you can watch the next Mars rover being built in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thanks to a well-positioned webcam.

Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is a hulking beast compared to its smaller cousins, Spirit and Opportunity. The six-wheeled Curiosity is about the size of a car and weighs 2,000 pounds. The rover is scheduled to blast off toward Mars in the winter of 2011, and to reach the planet in August 2012. Its mission: to probe rocks, take pictures, and generally cruise around looking for signs of life, past or present.

The “Curiosity Cam” went live today. It will typically show technicians working from 8 in the morning until 11 at night, Monday through Friday, but the bunny suit-clad engineers sometimes disappear from the shot when their work draws them to other parts of the building. (During their lunch break today one commenter groused that it was boring to stare at an empty room.) Right now the technicians are working on the rover’s instruments, tomorrow they’re scheduled to put the suspension system and wheels on. Be sure to tune in!

Related Content:
80beats: It’s Alive! NASA Test-Drives Its New Hulking Mars Rover, Curiosity
80beats: James Cameron to Design a 3D Camera for Next-Gen Mars Rover
80beats: Spirit Doesn’t Return NASA’s Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good
80beats: Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record: Photos From Opportunity’s 6 Years On-Planet

Image: NASA / JPL

This Is What Happens When a Physicist Reads "Goodnight Moon"

By Eliza Strickland | October 18, 2010 1:54 pm

goodnight-moonGoodnight moon, goodnight room. Goodnight frogger, goodnight super-analytical blogger.

Chad Orzel of the physics blog Uncertain Principles has had plenty of time to contemplate the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon in the course of bedtime readings with his toddler. And he got to wondering, just how long does it take the book’s bunny protagonist to say goodnight to all the objects in the room? And could a physics blogger figure it out from eyeballing the moon’s rise through the sky during the course of the story?

Happily, yes. Go read the full post for the math of the moon’s passage through the sky; we’ll skip to the results and tell you that Orzel puts the figure at about 6 minutes. But there’s a hitch: The clocks shown in various pictures of the bunny’s room instead show that one hour and 10 minutes have elapsed. There are only two possible explanations, Orzel says:

These two methods clearly do not agree with one another, which means one of two things: either I’m terribly over-analyzing the content of the illustrations of a beloved children’s book, or the bunny’s bedroom is moving at extremely high velocity relative to the earth, so that relativistic time dilation makes the six-minute rise of the moon appear to take an hour and ten minutes.

Related Content:
The Loom: Goodnight Moon Shot [Tattoo]
Bad Astronomy: The Moon Is Shrinking!
80beats: Study: There’s Water on the Lunar Surface, but Inside It’s Bone Dry
80beats: Solar Sleuthing Suggests When Odysseus Got Home: April 16, 1178 B.C.
Discoblog: Astronomers Identify the Mystery Meteor That Inspired Walt Whitman

NASA and Etsy Team Up to Get Their Space Craft(ing) On

By Jennifer Welsh | October 15, 2010 3:42 pm
5-paulandkatestudio
1-trinlayk
2-bailybellecreations
3-blueroompottery
4-sheliasthings
6-designerica
7-cookstah

____________________________________________

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

So, How Long Would It Take to Travel to That Exciting New Exoplanet?

By Eliza Strickland | October 4, 2010 1:55 pm

gliese581cForget Avatar‘s exotic Pandora moon and the forest moon of Endor from Star Wars. Today’s top fantasy travel destination is the exoplanet Gliese 581g.

Last week, the astronomy world lit up with the report of a newly identified exoplanet that may be orbiting in the “habitable zone” around its star. As DISCOVER’s Bad Astronomer explained, the planet orbits a dim red dwarf star called Gliese 581, and seems to be at the right distance from the star to maintain liquid water on its surface. That, of course, makes alien-philes wonder if Gliese 581g also hosts life. And that makes people want to go check.

But the media enthusiasm may have gotten ever so slightly ahead of the science.

Announcing the find on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams said: “They say it’s about 20 light years away, but that’s practically nothing in astronomy terms.” And he declared at the end of the segment: “It’s just nice to know that if we screw this place up badly enough there is some place we can all go.”

That really pissed off David McConville, a space and science educator with the company Elumenati. McConville worries that such flippancy discourages conservation programs here on Earth, and he did the math to show that Gliese 581g is a little more than a hop, skip, and jump away. Here’s his explanation, in cute avatar form:

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Space Tourists Will Get Their Own Special Space Beer

By Jennifer Welsh | September 30, 2010 5:55 pm

space-beerA new type of beer is being marketed to a very select demographic: space tourists. The special beer is about to undergo testing in a near-weightless environment to qualify it for drinking in space.

Unlike other space beers, which are created from barley that grew on the International Space Station, this space beer is being made especially to be consumed in space. The brew is a team effort from Saber Astronautics Australia and the 4-Pines Brewing Company (aka Vostok Pty Ltd), and will be given its low-gravity try-out by the non-profit organization Astronauts4Hire. From the Vostok Pty Ltd Facebook page:

As space exploration becomes more commercial, it is likely to support a market for the tasty brew. While the brew is designed to be enjoyed in low gravity environments (i.e., a space station, the Moon, or Mars) it will also be tasty on Earth.

The brew was bottled in early September and is expected to make its inaugural flight in November, aboard a plane that flies in long parabolic arcs to create periods of weightlessness. The beer will be tested for its qualitative taste and drinkability (hopefully not by the pilot). The reason why space-goers need their own beer is two-fold.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

Don't Give Up Hope: Earth Has Not Yet Selected an Alien Ambassador

By Jennifer Welsh | September 27, 2010 12:22 pm

alienThe truth is out there… but it’s not that Mazlan Othman is going to be our space ambassador, as recently reported by The Sunday Times (paywall) and reprinted in The Australian:

The United Nations, tackling head-on the problem of what to do if an alien says “take me to your leader”, is poised to designate a specific individual for the task…. An obscure Malaysian astrophysicist who is head of its little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).

The story, which was widely reported over the weekend, was published on Sunday at 12:50 pm AEST (Saturday, 9:50 pm EDT). It compared Unoosa and Othman to the Men In Black and even quoted experts in space policy:

Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”

The story was then picked up by The Telegraph, which published on Sunday at 11:30 am BST (Sunday, 6am EDT), discussing the details of Othman’s push for her new role:

She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week. The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.

From there the story spread to various other news sites, including CNET, Daily Mail, Wired.co.uk, and Time before anyone thought to actually check the facts of the Australian article. At around 8 am EDT on Monday The Guardian posted a story claiming that that Mazlan Othman has officially denied the statement:

Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”. Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.

Related content:
Discoblog: Man Claims That Aliens Are Pelting His House With Meteorites
80beats: Stephen Hawking, for One, Does Not Welcome Our Potential Alien Overlords
Bad Astronomy: Aliens can be prickly
Science Not Fiction: First Dinosaurs, Now Aliens Invade San Diego!
Gene Expression: Diplomacy among the aliens
Gene Expression: The aliens are out to get us!

Image: Flickr/Kevindooley

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

Astronauts' Occupational Hazard: Falling-Off Fingernails

By Eliza Strickland | September 14, 2010 12:14 pm

astronaut-handAlong with the rest of the criteria that make for a good astronaut–some heavy degrees in science or technology, a tolerance for cramped spaces and freeze-dried food–let’s add another one. The ideal astronaut should have narrow hands to prevent his or her fingernails from falling off.

National Geographic reports that the design of astronauts’ space suit gloves can lead to hand and finger injuries, including an icky condition called fingernail delamination in which the nail completely detaches from the nailbed. While missing nails do grow back in time, if the nail falls off in the middle of a spacewalk it can snag inside the glove, and moisture inside the glove can lead to bacterial or fungal infections in the exposed nailbed. MIT astronautics professor Dava Newman told National Geographic that astronauts take this medical prospect seriously:

For now, the only solutions are to apply protective dressings, keep nails trimmed short—or do some extreme preventative maintenance. “I have heard of a couple people who’ve removed their fingernails in advance of an EVA,” Newman said.

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