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.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

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:

 

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This video clip shows some of the amazing footage from Felix Baumgartner’s chest and head cameras during his successful supersonic skydive attempt Sunday. I’m sure you’ve heard most of this by now, but the preliminary numbers are 9 minutes & 3 seconds jump to landing, top speed of 833.9 mph or Mach 1.24, jump height of 128,100 feet, and freefall time of 4 minutes & 20 seconds. He broke all the records previously owned by Col. Joe Kittinger (who was a consultant on the mission and coached Felix through the whole jump) except for one: longest freefall. Presumably this is because he fell so fast. The faster you fall the shorter your freefall time will be. Felix entered a terrifying spin during the first part of the dive, but he managed to regain control and did not have to deploy the emergency stabilization chute, which would have prevented him from breaking speed of sound.

In other science-related news, photographer and videographer Christopher Malin created a surreal new type of timelapse that I’ve yet to see used on space station footage- a stack. Stacking involves blending each frame of the footage into the next, creating a blurred effect with light trails and star trails. Just watch it, it’s kind of a head trip:

Just a quick roundup of some news and updates in the science world:

  • Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic, record-setting skydive attempt was delayed until Tuesday morning due to weather concerns. The balloon launch is scheduled for around dawn, so I’ll try to tune into the interwebs tomorrow morning to see how it goes. More at Discovery News.
  • Space X successfully launched its first official, non-demonstration mission to the ISS last night. The launch was successful despite the Falcon 9 rocket losing one of its 9 main engines about 90 seconds into the launch. The faulty engine was immediately shut down and the onboard computer recalculated the flight trajectory, adding the necessary burn time to get its Dragon capsule to the correct orbit to rendezvous with the ISS. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has the full deets.
  • The Mars Rover Curiosity successfully scooped up a sample of soil and agitated it in a bin this past weekend. Instruments on board will soon run a series of tests to determine if the soil could have supported microbial life in the past. Check out this video created from a couple hundred photos taken of the sample as it was being agitated.

Remember back in the 90s and early aughts when SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) had those screensavers you could install that would process chunks of radio telescope data, looking for interesting signals? It would quietly download the data packets, process them, and send them back to SETI. That project has long since been canceled, but its successor is even cooler- SETI Live. The latest version of it just launched yesterday, and it literally allows you to visually analyze real data from the Allen Telescope Array. As I understand it, there are parts of the radio spectrum that are crowded by our own human-made signals. Even the most sophisticated computer software has a hard time distinguishing between something that’s manmade and something that’s extraterrestrial in origin, so they need human eyes to make the distinction. The project is part of Zooniverse, which has many other projects that allow the general public to take part in real scientific research and experiments. So sign yourself up and get to analyzing- you never know what you’ll find, especially now that they’re aiming the radio telescopes at stars known to have planets orbiting them!

Now sit back and enjoy this eye candy: yet another gorgeous timelapse video created from photos of earth at night taken from the International Space Station. I could literally watch stuff like this all day. There have been several of these created thus far, but this one just might be the best yet. It’s like crack for your eyes…

(Via Universe Today)

Monday videos: cats and space

November 14, 2011

Few words today, simply two videos to entertain you for different reasons.

HD timelapse footage of earth from the International Space Station. This has been making the rounds on the interwebs already, so you’ve probably seen it, but it’s just too good not to post. The city lights combined with the aurorae make this simply jaw-dropping/drool-inducing. Be sure to set HD to “on” and make it fullscreen!

 

And now let us take a quick look into the exciting new world of “catvertising”…

(Via yewknee’d)

Today I’m simply going to point you in the direction of Nashville Cream to see what’s going on show-wise this weekend. It’s looking like a pretty good one. This is all so I can briefly talk about more science, since this week had only one science-related post.

Buzz Aldrin has stayed somewhat in the spotlight after he became the 2nd man to walk on the moon in 1969. In addition to recording a rap song with Snoop Dogg, Talib Qweli, Quincy Jones, and Soulja Boy, he founded a non-profit organization called ShareSpace and has has published articles criticizing NASA for not focusing on manned exploration beyond our own moon. Just a few days ago he published an article on AOL along those same lines, but this time outlining his idea for what NASA should do next. Mainly he agrees with Obama’s plan to look to private space companies for ferrying cargo and astronauts to the ISS and low Earth orbit. But he proposes that if NASA focuses its effort on Mars, we can get there by the summer of 2019. He wants NASA to continue using the space shuttles to carry leftover space station parts and modules into orbit, where they would then be assembled into an “Exploration Module” prototype, which would be a precursor to a fully fleshed-out version, capable of taking a crew to Mars. There are a lot of details missing here, such as whether or not this EM is supposed to land on Mars or just orbit it, and if it’s supposed to land, where the crew would get the supplies needed to survive, and of course the big question would be: how do they get back? Regardless, I think it’s great that he’s continually putting ideas out there. I don’t necessarily think that he’s even trying to present a technologically feasible, functional plan… more that he’s just trying to get people thinking in a different direction. And even though this is VERY old news, it’s worth posting this video of him punching nutbag, anti-science, anti-reality filmmaker Bart Sibrel in front of a Hollywood hotel in 2002, after being confronted by him. FUCK YEA BUZZ ALDRIN! (Via Discover Blogs)

I must also take this opportunity to point that some scientists really DO have a sense of humor. According to i09, a physics student has asked the International System of Units to call 10 to the 27th power “hella.” That means that a distance of 10 to the 27th meters would be a hellameter. That’s pretty close to the current estimated size of the universe (it would be 1.4 hellameters, to be exact), thus we could officially say that the universe is “hella big.”

Have a great weekend!

It’s been a minute since I mentioned the NASA budget/direction controversy, so here’s a bit of an update:

Lots of NASA employees and contractors in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral have launched a campaign against Obama’s budget cuts/change of direction for NASA. They are doing this because when the shuttle program winds down later this year, and the Constellation program gets ousted altogether, there won’t be nearly as many jobs in the area. That’s a legitimate concern, but in the big picture, I say it’s a necessary evil. Besides, these people are engineers, scientists, etc… they are all very smart and quite capable of finding work in other areas, maybe even for the private companies like SpaceX that will take over the duties of getting cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. I am all for Obama’s plan, because it pushes NASA to look ahead into exploring the rest of our solar system. That’s where the REAL science/discoveries happen. In reality the space shuttle is a dinosaur- it’s expensive to maintain, and it’s not safe. It has no bailout system whatsoever, so if something goes wrong (see: Challenger and Columbia), the astronauts inside are screwed. It is most definitely an impressive piece of engineering, but it’s time to move on. NASA can NOT continue spinning its wheels, never getting us past the ISS and/or low Earth orbit. NASA needs to focus its efforts/money on projects like the VASIMR plasma rocket engine, which could cut a spacecraft’s trip to Mars from 6 months to roughly 40 days. The new commercial spaceflight companies will be more than capable of handling NASA’s cargo and low Earth orbit needs much sooner than NASA could on its own via the Constellation program. End of rant.

In some happier science news, Google is developing a new thermal mirror energy system that could cut the cost of electricity to 5 cents per kWh. This would make solar thermal energy much cheaper than coal. These stations are made up of a huge array of mirrors arranged so that they create one gigantic parabolic mirror. The parabolic shape reflects all the sunlight into one point, at which a heat-collecting device is mounted (on top of a tower), which in turn heats water into steam that runs a turbine to generate power. Naturally this system is only good for areas which receive a lot of sunlight such as deserts, but if Google can make them cheap to build, they could play a big part in getting the world weened off of fossil fuels for energy production. As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be fiddling with ways to cleanup our use of fossil fuels, we should be focusing eliminating our dependence on them altogether. (Via EcoGeek)

Finally, the earthquake that rocked Chile over the weekend may have actually shortened the length of a day. Granted the current estimate is that our day was shortened by only 1.26 milliseconds, but that’s still pretty amazing. Not only did the day shorten, but the figure axis was also offset by about 3 inches. Think of how big this planet is… that earthquake had to release an unfathomable amount of energy to actually alter its axis! (Via Space.com)