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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.
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(Fast forward to about 2:30 to get to the actual launch.)

SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon capsule filled with supplies and experiments bound for the International Space Station this morning at 3:44am EDT. This mission is far from complete, however, and with the capsule now in orbit the company must also prove their capsule can be docked with space station, unloaded, reloaded with used experiments, and splash back down safely in the pacific ocean. This flight is historic because it will be the first private, non-NASA rocket to complete a full mission to the ISS.

SpaceX has thus far been the leader among the various private companies vying for the top NASA contract to ferry cargo and astronauts to the ISS. The Dragon capsule will catch up to the ISS and perform a few maneuvers before slowly and incrementally approaching until the crew of the ISS can latch onto the capsule with the station’s robotic arm. They will then bring it in for docking using that arm this Friday May 25th. I really hope this mission is successful because as I’ve said all along, I’m a big fan of private companies taking over the low earth orbit duties for NASA. Keep your eye on the NASA website for updates. (Video via Universe Today)

Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory at UPR Arecibo, NASA, EUMETSAT, NERC Satellite Receiving Station, University of Dundee.

As you probably already know, there was an annular solar eclipse that was visible to parts of the Pacific rim last night/this morning. Because of the international dateline, I had the days mixed up and thought it was happening today (Monday May 21st) for the western U.S., when in fact for us it was at sunset last night. But it was Monday May 21st when it began for areas like Japan, because for them it happened early in the morning. Confusing right? It’s like the eclipse time-traveled. Anyway, the above photograph gives you a different perspective on it. The dark dot over the northern Pacific Ocean is the shadow of the moon! (Photo via Universe Today)

In other space-related news: SpaceX scrubbed the launch of their Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning due to a faulty check valve in one of the nine Merlin main engines. Their system has a computer that runs a full diagnostic check on everything right as the engines fire, and if even the slightest problem is detected the system shuts off everything immediately. Engineers are working diligently to get the valve replaced and run diagnostics with the rocket still on the launch pad. The new target launch date is May 22nd at 3:44am Eastern Daylight Time. I hope this all works out- I’m a fan of commercial spaceflight and feel that it is essential that NASA be able to rely on private companies to handle all their low-Earth orbit operations so that it can focus its main efforts on exploring asteroids and Mars. For more info see SpaceX’s website, and NASA.

Friends/readers- my apologies for being a bit behind on the blog this week. I’m juggling a lot this week and have been stretched pretty thin. But here are a couple of tidbits I’ve rounded up that piqued my interest.

Credit: SpaceX

The current leader in the commercial spaceflight race for ferrying NASA’s astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. They decided to combine the next two missions into one sometime last year, but the combined mission has faced several delays recently. Originally scheduled to launch late last year, this mission will be the first commercial mission to launch and dock with the ISS. That’s why this flight is so important and why they are double and triple checking to make sure they’ve dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s. If all goes well the Falcon 9 rocket will blast off from Cape Canaveral at 4:55 AM EDT Saturday morning. For more visit NASA or Bad Astronomy.

In other space-related news, NASA’s Messenger mission has been busy orbiting and making detailed maps of planet Mercury. Having no atmosphere, Mercury’s blistering surface is nothing but craters, and thus the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has been busy naming those craters. Andy Warhol was the latest celeb to get a crater named after him, and to celebrate, the mission managers created this image of the Warhol crater in the style of the pop art screen prints he’s famous for:

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Some amazing and unique footage of Space Shuttle Discovery’s launch last thursday from an airplane window. The people on this plane got very lucky, as this is something rarely seen by the public. It’s one of those “right place, right time” deals. Be sure to pump it up to HD resolution.

(Via Bad Astronomy)

If you’re in Nashville and are a fan of local music, be sure not to miss tonight’s Road to Bonnaroo 8 off 8th at Mercy Lounge. This is the third year of RTB, and tonight’s lineup looks great. This event really brings out the best in these bands, as most will have some sort of trick up their sleeve. We’ve seen just about every type of gimmick you can think of at these events in the past two years. If you didn’t know, the bands’ scores are made up of 50% audience vote and 50% judge vote. Tonight’s lineup:

Evan P. Donohue
Courtney Jaye
Chancellor Warhol
Majestico
Heartbeater
Kink Ador
The Kicks
Tyler Byant

For more info on the bands/artists and sample mp3s, visit the Mercy Lounge calendar.

Amazing Space Shuttle footage

December 13, 2010

NASA has released a stunning and awe-inspiring collection of footage of Space Shuttle launches called Ascent. It’s narrated by two shuttle engineers, so you know exactly what you’re looking at the whole time. Most of these scenes are in ultra slow-motion and fairly high definition, revealing tiny details that go by far too fast for the naked eye. PLEASE, take the time to sit down and watch all 45 minutes. TRUST ME, it is well worth your time. You will not be disappointed. These scenes have previously only been for NASA eyes only, but with the imminent retirement of the shuttle fleet, NASA is starting the long process of “commemorative this, remembering that” PR. I’m sure there will be more footage and imagery released, along with documentaries and short films, etc…

Put this video on its 480p resolution, throw it on fullscreen, and sit back. (Via Universe Today)

Warning: I’m about to rant.

If I hear one more person say “look at this winter and all this snow… global warming… yeah right” I’m going to punch them in the fucking face. If you believe for one second that this winter’s excessive snow and cold weather in the southeastern US proves global warming is a myth, then you are simply solidifying your incredible ignorance and utter stupidity. There is a big difference between the terms “weather” and “climate.” Weather refers to the day-to-day changes in precipitation, temperature, barometric pressure, wind, etc… Climate refers to long-term, general trends in weather. We’re talking decades and centuries. That’s why global warming is referred to as “climate change,” not “weather change.” We will still have variations in seasons, even as global warming continues. Some winters will be colder and snowier than others, and some summer will hotter and drier than others. Some springs will be stormier, and some falls will have more hurricanes. These small-scale variations can be affected by long-term climate change, but there are many MANY other factors that come into play with small-scale weather events. One thing you may not realize about this winter (if you’re from anywhere east of the Mississippi) is that while we’ve had a cold, snowy winter in the east, most areas in the American west have had a very warm, dry winter. This is why there have been so many problems with Olympics. The mountains around Vancouver have not had as much natural snow as usual, and it’s also been warmer than usual. The direct reason for this winter’s weather is best described as a perfect combination of El Nino and the Arctic Oscillation. The AO is in a more negative phase this year than it has been in decades, which means the cold air at the northern latitudes is dropping farther southward into the US. This, combined with the very active and moist southern jet stream (which resides mostly over Mexico, Texas, and into the Gulf states), has resulted in a snowy winter for the southeastern US. This does NOT mean global warming is false! The average GLOBAL temperature is still warmer than normal. All this is explained in a much-less rant-y fashion at the Weather Underground blog. More details about the negative AO can be found in this AccuWeather article. Hey, Sen. James Inhofe, you just proved your massive ignorance and incompetence with your little igloo stunt next to the Capitol.

Rant over. Now for some much more pleasant science goodies…

The latest shuttle mission to the ISS, still in progress, delivered the new Tranquility node with a huge 7-panel window called Cupola, which was officially opened on Wed. Check this article on Universe Today for more details and to see pics of it. Look for many spectacular photos from this window to be released soon.

What would normally be a fairly unimpressive, routine rocket launch turned into a spectacular event last Thursday. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite launched on top of an Atlas V rocket. What makes this so special is the amazing coincidence of the rocket’s sonic boom (created as it surpasses the speed of sound) with its passage through the cirrus cloud layer. The weird looking ripples you see at about 1:50 into the video below are REAL. It looks like some kind of computer effect, but it’s NOT. There are still shots of them as well. What’s even more amazing is that another atmospheric phenomenon called a sun dog was happening at the time as well, and it appears that the sonic boom disrupted the ice crystals in the cloud, destroying the sun dog. All this via Bad Astronomy.

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