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Endeavour launched through a low deck of clouds Monday morning. Credit: NASA

As I’m sure you know, Space Shuttle Endeavour launched Monday morning, and is now docked with the International Space Station. I want to point out one very special part of this mission that could change mankind’s understanding of the universe forever- the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. This device is the brainchild of Nobel Prize winner Professor Samuel Ting. It cost about $2 billion to build, but the knowledge gained from it will be well worth the money. The device will be mounted on the exterior of the ISS and will run its experiments for the rest of the duration of the ISS (currently the ISS is to be funded and run through 2025). Basically, this amazing piece of equipment has a ring of immensely powerful magnets that will bend the path of any nearby cosmic rays so that they pass through a very sensitive detector. The velocity of these cosmic rays out in space is many orders of magnitude greater than anything we can create in a collider here on Earth (the Large Hadron Collider, for example). These rays do hit the Earth’s atmosphere, but most of them are scattered, deflected, or broken up by the ozone layer. That’s why this space-based experiment is so important. The main things Ting will be looking for are evidence of antimatter, dark matter/dark energy, strangelets, and other aspects of cosmic radiation that could affect future missions involving manned spaceflight. For a good breakdown of each of these scientific objectives, visit the AMS’s official website. The wikipedia page and this space.com article are also pretty good.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked much about exoplanets- one of my favorite areas of science and astronomy. I’m happy to report that our old friend Gliese 581 has yet another surprise: one of its well-confirmed planets may actually have liquid water on its surface, which means the temperature range would generally be suitable for human life. For a few years now we’ve known about several planets orbiting this red dwarf star that sits about 20 light-years away from us. The latest exoplanet discovery associated with this system (Gliese 581g) is being hotly contested, so it may not even exist at all, but the one we’re now talking about is certain to exist. It could be a while before we can definitively say whether or not this exoplanet (Gliese 581d) actually has liquid water on its surface, but a new set of computer models/simulations has shown that if the atmosphere of this rocky super-earth is dense enough, it would be stable and keep the temperature range suitable for liquid water, and possibly even life. This all hinges on an assumption that this world has a thick atmosphere full of CO2, so scientists aren’t really certain about the climate. But, based on what is known about planet formation and the makeup of Gliese 581d, a thick CO2 atmosphere is very likely to exist. This is certainly not the “holy grail of planet-hunting” a.k.a. an earth-twin because the planet is about twice the size of Earth/has about 7 times the mass, is tidally locked (meaning the same side always faces its star), and has an atmosphere of mostly CO2. Indeed, if life exists at all on this world, it would be vastly different from what’s found on Earth, but this news is very exciting nonetheless.

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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)

Astronaut Koichi Wakata

Astronaut Koichi Wakata

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!

Just about everyone hates WalMart for various reasons. At least everyone with half a brain. BUT they’re beginning to redeem theirselves in my eyes with this new initiative to instate a universal carbon footprint rating for all retail stores to use. Different environmental groups have attempted to do this for years but failed repeatedly because it’s such a an enormous undertaking. But hopefully not too enormous for WalMart. If anyone has the power to get this kind of research done, it’s WalMart. Let’s hope this is a case of the giant with superpowers using them for good, not evil. This could have a huge effect if successful, because it will put real pressure on manufacturers to “green” their processes and products. More at the New York Times. (Via EcoGeek)

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Credit: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Endeavour did a fly-around of the ISS today and then successfully docked. They took many detailed photographs of the heat shields and will inspect them in the days to come. The shuttle engineers are intrigued by the 12-ish pieces of foam seen falling off the external fuel tank late in the launch footage. This is mainly because of how late it occurred. It happened at a time/height when atmospheric pressure is very low and thus there’s much less stress on the foam to cause it to fall off, so they aren’t really sure why it happened. Nonetheless, initial opinion is that the heat shield did not suffer any major damage that would threaten safety of the crew on re-entry, but that opinion can always change. (Via Space.com)

Attention bands everywhere: the Next Big Nashville deadline for entry was extended until this coming Friday. It was originally today, but last Friday they announced the extension. So get over to American Songspace and apply if you haven’t. It’s only ten bucks!

Those Darlins just keep making bigger and bigger news stories. This time they got a mention on CNN and the New York Times! Check out CNN.com and watch the video clip. They talk about Hannah Montana first, then mention the Darlins at about 2:50 into the clip. Then check out the NYT review here. They also got written up on Brooklyn Vegan for the 368th time….

Tonight is Nashville Cream’s 70’s cover night at Mercy Lounge. It’s like an 8 off 8th in that there’s 8 bands and they play about 3 songs each, but all bands are doing covers of songs from the 70’s. It’s totally free and 21+. It’ll be a blast so come on down.

Oddee posted a blog about 10 very strange bars. My favorite is the bar made of ice. Pretty awesome.

From the science world…

The launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour was scrubbed AGAIN yesterday due to storms in the vicinity of the launch area. They’re going to retry the launch at 6:51pm EDT tonight, but the forecast is still pretty iffy. Basically any afternoon/early evening launch time during the summer months is a shot in the dark because storms pop every afternoon in Florida due to the interaction between the hot/humid air over the land and the cooler seabreeze coming in off the ocean. Basically they’ll just have to get lucky.

In other NASA news, a really cool interactive flash application is up on their website. It’s a panoramic view made of images taken during the Apollo 11 moon landing (except for the image of the Eagle lander, which is obviously CG). You can scroll around from several different viewpoints. In case you didn’t know, this year is the 40th Anniversary of the moon landing.

I guess the biggest news today is that the reunited Blur finally played some shows recently in the UK, and the announcement that 3 members of New Order have joined with Blur bassist Alex James to form a new band called Bad Lieutenant. More on that story at Brooklyn Vegan.

I’m a little late in posting about this, but if you’re a Nashville band (or actually, any band, really) you can now submit to play the 4th annual Next Big Nashville festival/conference being held this October 7-11. This year’s festival is now open to any band, from any city, though according to their blog, a Nashville connection does help:

“While NBN is obviously focused on shining a spotlight on artists from the area, our submission process isĀ open to artists from anywhere (that means you Iceland!). A Nashville connection certainly helps, but our event is about a celebration of the creative center that is Music City, and much like the party our Austin friends throw every year in March, everyone is invited.”

I’m glad they ditched the rip-off scheme that is Sonicbids in favor of this submission form through American Songspace. I’m definitely looking forward to this year’s festival!

Right off the heels of his big success with The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky is working on a film adaptation The Black Swan. While I’m unfamiliar with this book, the story sounds intriguing and the idea of Aronofsky working with Natalie Portman makes it a must-see in my opinion. Via Kottke.

NASA had to postpone the launch of Endeavour until July 11 at the earliest. The same hydrogen leak popped up again as they were filling the external tank for launch this morning.

I have to say that despite the horrific mess of driving through Knoxville yesterday, this year’s Thanksgiving break was a good one. Megan and I went back to east TN to visit my parents, and even got to go skiing wed. night after rushing to get there early enough. The snow was in good shape (for the southern Appalachians, at least) and we had a blast. Don’t get me wrong, skiing in NC or any where in the Appalachians doesn’t hold a candle to skiing in CO or anywhere in the rockies, but it’s better than nothing.

Today’s links:

Sharon Van Etten on RCRD LBL blog. I remember being served Red Stripe by her at the Red Rose in Murfreesboro years ago. She played at the Basement a few months ago and it took me a while to realize from where I recognized her. It’s awesome to see her getting some recogition in the blogosphere.

Weezer will be releasing an album of old recordings that “for some reason didn’t make the final cut” for their other albums. Very exciting. They can’t seem to put out anything new that’s worth more than a few listens on the way home from the record store, so the random old gems are gonna be the only way they can please the die-hard old school Weezer fans such as myself. Via Billboard.com:

On the heels of the release of the second volume of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo’s home recordings, the group is now taking a look back into its own vaults. Cuomo tells Billboard the tentatively titled “Odds and Ends” will feature “great songs” which “for some reason didn’t make the final cut” for an album.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in California yesterday after thunderstorms and crosswinds at Kennedy Space Center caused NASA to use its backup landing plan.

This may be old news by now, but the fragments of the meteor that streaked across the Canadian skies last week have finally be located. Apparently it was a pretty big one weighing a few tons. Image via Universe Today.

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Geoff Howe

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond. AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Geoff Howe

An environmental activist is planning to sue world leaders for global warming via a class action lawsuit for $1 billion.

HOLY SHIT! MANS WALKS ON FUCKING MOON!

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