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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)

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So there has been some excitement and confusion lately over a signal discovered by SETI researchers after they aimed one of their radio telescopes toward “objects of interest” discovered by the Kepler mission. These are possible exoplanet discoveries, but they’ve yet to be confirmed by other telescopes. (These are called Kepler Objects of Interest, or KOIs.) Until now, SETI researchers have been blindly aiming their telescopes all over they sky listening for possible alien radio signals. Now that the Kepler team has a few KOIs that might be habitable, it makes sense for SETI to narrow their search and start listening specifically in the direction of those KOIs. Well, they did just that, and they found an interesting signal! One that is clearly not just natural background noise. But, that signal is almost definitely interference from one of our own satellites, because the signal still shows up even when they aim the radio telescopes away from the exoplanets. So, don’t let anyone fool you- SETI has NOT discovered an alien radio signal.

As he always does, Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy lays out the truth on this. Universe Today has an excellent post on it as well.

Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to liftoff for its final scheduled flight this Friday at 2:20pm EDT. This will give some parts of the US an opportunity to see both the ISS and Atlantis streaking overhead at night. They will appear as simply a relatively fast-moving bright dot in the night sky. The ISS is so large now that its reflective surface allows it to be one of the brightest visible objects in the sky, even brighter than Venus. You can use Spaceweather.com’s simple satellite tracker web-tool to see when the ISS (and other satellites) will be doing a flyby of your area. Here’s the list for Nashville this week/end.

The European Space Agency is in the final phase of a large experiment designed to study the physiological and psychological effects of a small group of people being isolated for extended periods of time as they would be on a mission to Mars. This final phase is called Mars500, and is about to subject 6 crew members from all over the world to 520 days of a simulated Mars mission. They’ve gone to great detail to make the simulation as realistic as possible, with outside communication on a 40-minute delay, and with random interruptions. This all sounds a bit crazy, but it’s absolutely essential to understanding how humans will behave and interact in such isolated conditions. I have no doubt that this research will contribute to the success of mankind’s first manned mission to the red planet. The participants were all, of course, eager and willing to put themselves through this. (Via ESA website)

NASA is asking for help from the general public in identifying “scientifically interesting” features on the surface of the moon. The recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken extremely high-resolution images, and there’s so much real estate to cover that NASA scientists can’t possibly go through it all in any reasonable amount of time. So, they created a website through the Zooniverse project called Moon Zoo where people can take a virtual tour of the surface of the moon, seeing details potentially as small as astronaut footprints from the Apollo missions! The surface feature identification tasks they need everyday people to do are still too complex for even a supercomputer to manage. This idea follows a long line of crowd-sourcing computing projects that began with SETI@Home in the late 90’s. A brilliant idea if you ask me. (Via Space.com)

On a personal note: I just bottled a batch of Belgian Blonde Ale and it should be ready to drink in a week or so. This stuff is 7.3% ABV so it’s venturing into the realm of high-gravity beer. Contact me if you want to try some. Next batch: a British ESB/American Pale Ale hybrid that should be interesting.

Credit: Pete Souza/official White House flickr photostream

Credit: Pete Souza/official White House flickr photostream

Obama officially announced former astronaut Charles Bolden as his pick for the new NASA Chief Administrator. FINALLY! I’m just glad they now have a clear idea of who’s in charge, and soon will have a clear direction as well.

In case you’re under a rock, Obama also announced Sonia Sotomayer as his pick for the vacant U.S. Supreme Court Justice seat.

Space Shuttle Atlantis landed Sunday at Edwards Air Force Base in California after 3 scrubbed attempts to land at Cape Canaveral. The orbiter will spend a week there being prepped for the piggy-back ride on top of a modified Boeing 747 to take it back to Florida.

With the scheduled Soyuz Rocket launch tomorrow at 6:34AM, the International Space Station will have a full crew of 6 personell for the first time ever. Coincidentally, this also marks the first time that representatives from all 5 agencies involved with the ISS have been aboard it at the same time. Those agencies are NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Ok, enough space stuff already… we’ll stick to science, though, because I found lot of good science news in my reader today, and not much else worth posting.

The National Ignition Facilily (NIF) in California is about to create a tiny man-made star with deuterium, tritium, and one big-ass laser. This has to be one of the coolest-sounding descriptions I’ve ever seen. In all honesty, though, it’s not really a star. But they will create nuclear fusion, the process that occurs at the core of stars, on a very tiny scale for a fraction of a second. This is just one small step toward the solution to all of earth’s energy problems. Not only will this device help solve energy problems, it will also help physicists study what happens when a star explodes, and also the inner-workings of any nuclear explosion. Back to the energy issue, though. If we can figure out a way to contain a sustained fusion reaction, and make it yield more energy than is required to create and contain it, then humans will have solved our energy crisis. As far as I can tell, there’s no Dr. Octavius employed at the NIF, thank goodness…

Stephen Colbert interviewed Seth Shostak on The Colbert Report. Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute. (SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.) Watch it on Colbert Nation.

Ok I have to post something not-so-serious now- Hurley has a blog! Seriously, it’s not the most interesting thing I’ve seen but it’s still way-cool to read about his real life. Besides, who doesn’t love Hurley?

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