It’s been way too long since I last posted anything science-related. Photographing weddings, playing in two bands, and working a day job has eaten up all of my spare time lately! But I’ve found enough time to bring you some exciting updates and cool videos today.
Above is a comparison of the 5 newly confirmed exoplanets in the Kepler-62 system. The Kepler mission also confirmed an exoplanet around another star, Kepler-69, but that one isn’t nearly as interesting as the Kepler-62 system. Specifically, Kepler-62e and 62f are very exciting because they are officially the smallest potentially habitable exoplanets discovered to date! 62e and 62f are about 1.6 and 1.4 times the size of Earth, respectively. Based on our best computer models for planetary formation and evolution, scientists estimate that 62e is probably cloudy and quite warm, while 62f is probably covered in water and quite cooler, possibly even covered in ice. But different atmospheric conditions could change that significantly… there’s no way (yet) to know for sure. For more on this exciting discovery check out Universe Today and Bad Astronomy.
In related news: Building on the awesome success of the Kepler mission, NASA has announced its next exoplanet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. Scheduled for launch in 2017, this new space-based telescope will look for exoplanets in the same way the Kepler mission has been, but it will use four wide-angle telescopes to look at a much broader part of the sky.
Now for the video goods. These are both very cool short segments from Canadian astronaut and current ISS commander Chris Hadfield.
This one is a mesmerizing demonstration of how water behaves in a zero-gravity environment by wringing out a wet washcloth:
And this one is Chris talking about possibly the coolest aspect of being in the ISS- taking breathtaking photographs of Earth from the ISS’s cupola:
Success! Astronaut Don Pettit successfully captured SpaceX’s Dragon capsule today at 9:56am EDT with the space station’s robotic arm. They will now bring the Dragon capsule in and dock it with the ISS. This is an historic moment- the first time a commercial spacecraft has ever docked with the ISS. Hopefully within a few years, these amazing private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX can fully take over the duties of ferrying cargo and people to and from the ISS. More at NASA.gov.
February 23, 2012
I’m always happy when the worlds of music and science collide in cool ways, as should be quite evident by the name of this blog. In reality science IS music, just like science is everything, but this is one instance where it’s especially cool. Astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to be commander of the International Space Station, and he also happens to be a musician. It turns out music is actually an integral part of maintaining the psychological health of the astronauts, and so NASA decided to put an acoustic guitar on the station. This video from Space.com shows Hadfield explaining the guitar design itself, as well as the challenges and adaptations one has to make when playing in zero gravity. Very cool.
On a side note, I’m well aware of collective facepalm the science community is doing right now since the story broke yesterday that the apparent faster-than-light neutrinos discovered last fall may actually be due to a simple bad GPS cable connection. This is still, as far as I can tell, unconfirmed, so I’m holding off on posting anything in-depth. But I will say that I almost expected it to be something so trivial… We’ll see how it pans out.
October 13, 2009
I haven’t posted any science-related stuff on here in waaaay too long. Part if it has been Next Big Nashville, which I’m still recovering from, along with other general business. That being said, here are some goodies for you:
NASA has a renewed focus on the moon, especially to determine how much, if any, water is there. One of the ways they decided to do that was to smash the rocket stage of the current satellite into the surface and analyze the result plume of dust and debris. Sunday they did just that, and the results are still coming in, but it was definitely a successful impact. Check out more about the LCROSS mission here.
I’ve mentioned the 2012 doomsday myth on here before and linked to various website that thoroughly debunk it, but today one article caught my eye. I’d never even thought to research what the Mayan descendants have to say about this issue. Turns out they are pretty smart and fully understand that the world won’t end just because their Long Count calendar ends. The whole steaming pile of bullshit that is the 12/21/2012 doomsday myth is entirely a creation of modern Western culture that’s been imposed on the Mayan culture and one of their many calendars. The point to drive home here is that THE VERY PEOPLE WHO INVENTED THE CALENDAR DON’T EVEN BELIEVE THE HYPE BECAUSE IT’S BULLSHIT! They simply take it for what it is: an anniversary of sorts, a time when the Long Count calendar starts over again. Read the article at Discovery News.
Remember when Stephen Colbert lead a huge campaign to get the newest node for the Space Station named after him? While he did win the popular vote, NASA had the final say and didn’t name it after him, but they did come up with a ridiculous name for the new treadmill for the ISS that, when abbreviated, spells C.O.L.B.E.R.T. and the astronauts just completed its assembly. Here’s a pic of them using it for the first time:
September 10, 2009
Bad news for NASA from the Augustine Commission. Under the current budget through 2015, we can’t even get out of Low-Earth Orbit. What that means is we can only go to the ISS. We can’t even get back to the moon, let alone send people to Mars or beyond. The commission’s recommendations are best summarized in a cool graphic that I found on Universe Today yesterday. See below.
Obviously Obama has to allocate more money to NASA if we are to even think about achieving the current set of goals. (Those being: retiring the space shuttle, developing the new Ares rockets, Orion Crew Module, and Antares Moon Lander, and getting back to the Moon around 2020.) In these times that will be tough, and sadly NASA could get put on the backburner for a few years until we have more economic stability. Let’s hope for the best, though.
In some much better NASA news, the newly refurbished Hubble Space Telescope is working like a charm and is taking better pictures than ever before. Check out some of the gorgeous new images at NASA’s website. You can even download super hi-res versions. Eye. Gasm.
Who knew that we’d be able to build an actual, real-life antigravity device so soon? Scientists have found a way to levitate small creatures as big as mice. We’ve all seen the classroom science experiment where they use a superconductor in liquid nitrogen to levitate a tiny disc. But you can actually do that with almost anything. They key is getting the magnetic field to the right strength. AND there’s a practical goal of this research other than “Holy Shit! We made a mouse float in mid-air! Cool!” The practical goal is to study long-term effects of microgravity on the mice’s bodies, the results of which can be applied to astronauts in space and help NASA plan for missions to Mars and beyond. (Via LiveScience)
Here’s one of those awesome Hubble images:
August 24, 2009
The theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out from an asteroid impact near the modern-day Yucatan Peninsula is beginning to face major challenges. There’s no doubt that a huge impact caused the Chicxculub Crater, but some recent findings suggest that the impact may have occurred some 300,000 years earlier than originally thought. This comes as a second blow to the impact theory, with the first being the discovery/dating of the Deccan Traps in India. This gigantic volcanic feature is the result of a huge eruption that is believed to have lasted around 30,000 years. Can you imagine a massive volcano erupting for 30,000 years and covering an area equivalent to 1/2 of modern India with lava? Trust me, something on that scale is hard for the human mind to comprehend, but that much volcanic ash and gas in the atmosphere would’ve had a devastating effect on the ecosystem, and almost certainly played a major role in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Get ready for science textbooks to be re-written, because the asteroid impact theory is about to see the same fate as the dinosaurs themselves. (Via Daily Galaxy)
NASA recently teamed up with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to test a new, Earth-friendly type of solid rocket fuel. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but somehow they’ve managed to make rocket fuel out of aluminum powder and ice. Yes ice… as in frozen water. The secret apparently is that the aluminum powder is so finely ground that it’s considered “nanoscale.” The nanoscale aluminum has so much surface area in contact with the water ice that the exothermic reaction when it burns is more efficient than normal solid rocket fuel, which is usually powdered aluminum (not nanoscale) mixed with an oxidizer such as ammonium perchlorate and a binding agent. Seriously though, who would’ve ever thought you could make rocket fuel out of ice and aluminum? It just sounds crazy, but it’s true. (Via EurekAlert)
When you think of the type of person who becomes an astronaut, you don’t typically think of race car drivers or musicians, but two of the astronauts about to launch on Space Shuttle Discovery tomorrow morning are just that- a former off-road truck racer and a drummer. Check out this Space.com article to find out more about Commander Rick Struckrow, formerly a Baja off-road race driver, Pilot Kevin Ford who is also a drummer, and several other astronauts who come from surprising backgrounds.
July 29, 2009
Remember Star Trek IV? That was the movie where they ended up time traveling back to the 20th Century and got stuck there, needing some transparent Aluminum to create a holding tank for a humpback whale. Some scientists have now created just that, if only for about 40 femtoseconds. They say it’s an entirely new state of matter, because they used a high-powered laser to remove one of the core electrons from each atom in a tiny area of Aluminum. This allowed X-ray and ultraviolet radiation to pass through uninhibited, effectively making the Aluminum transparent. (Via LiveScience)
There are many common luxuries that we take for granted on Earth, such as being able to wash our clothes. Unfortunately, in space you don’t have that luxury. Just going to the bathroom requires a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced toilet system. When astronauts wash their bodies they use special soap and shampoo that doesn’t require water. But in a microgravity environment where droplets of water can float around and destroy sensitive equipment, washing their clothes just isn’t an option. Unfortunately dirty clothes must be simply discarded. But apparently some Japanese scientists are working to fix that by inventing clothes that clean themselves… or don’t get dirty in the first place, depending on how you look at it. Astronaut Koichi Wakata, who just left the ISS on Endeavour, tested these new clothes during his 4 1/2 moth stay. It sounds utterly disgusting, but he never changed his underwear while he was there. The high-tech material actually kills odor-causing bacteria and absorbs moisture. He says that even after 4 1/2 moths of wear, they didn’t smell at all. This is yet another great example of how manned space exploration drives innovation and ultimately leads to technologies that are very applicable here on the ground. This could one day lead to clothes that literally clean themselves, eliminating the need for washing machines and dryers, which are energy and water hogs. (Via Universe Today)
In a related note, Universe Today also posted a set of great photos from Endeavour’s mission. Check it out.
That’s all I have time for today!