Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

Saturn

In July, you will have the photo opp of a lifetime.

According to the Cassini Solstice Mission website, the sun will backlight Saturn on July 19, allowing you to clearly see the planet’s rings, photograph them and observe the changes over the past seven years, since Saturn was last photographed.

The positioning of the planets against the sun will also allow for a clear photo of Earth from 898 million miles away. This shot of the Earth will be only the third of its kind in the history of U.S. space travel. The first was taken from the Voyager in 1990, from 4 billion miles away; the second from Cassini in 2006, from 926 million miles away.

NASA posted directions on its website for waving at Saturn on July 19. Since the picture of Earth will be tiny, NASA is encouraging people to capture their own photos of Saturn and send them in, which they will then compile into a collage and post on its website.

NASA is promoting Wave at Saturn with a Flickr group, Facebook event page and a #waveatsaturn Twitter hashtag.

The Cassini portrait session of Earth is expected to last around 15 minutes, beginning at 5:27 p.m. ET on July 19.

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://mashable.com/2013/06/25/saturn-photo/

meal_worms_3d
Delicious Uncle Sam’s Meal Cubes are laser-sintered from granulated mealworms; part of this healthy breakfast.
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NASA is funding research into 3D printed food which would provide astronauts with meals during long space flights. The futuristic food printers would use cartridges of powder and oils which would have a shelf life of 30 years.

While the idea may seem like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, the process of printing food has already been proven possible. The brains behind the innovation, Anjan Contractor, previously printed chocolate in a bid to prove his concept.

Contractor and his company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation, will now use NASA’s $125,000 grant to attempt to print a pizza. The grant was applied for on March 28, 2013. The pizza printer is still in the conceptual stage, and will begin to be built in two weeks.

The printer will first print a layer of dough, which will be cooked while being printed. Tomato powder will then be mixed with water and oil to print a tomato sauce. The topping for the pizza will be a “protein layer” which could come from any source – animals, milk, or plants.

The concept is to use basic “building blocks” of food in replaceable powder cartridges. Each block will be combined to create a range of foods which can be created by the printer. The cartridges will have a shelf life of 30 years – more than long enough to enable long-distance space travel.

Contractor and his team hope the 3D printer will be used not only by NASA, but also by regular Earthlings. His vision would mean the end of food waste, due to the powder’s long shelf life.

“I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently, ” he said, as quoted by Quartz.

“So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.” There are some conveniences which would come along with the printer. For example, recipes could be traded with others through software. Each recipe would have a set of instructions which tells the printer which cartridge of powder to mix with which liquids, and at what rate and how it should be sprayed.

Another perk includes personalized nutrition.

“If you’re male, female, someone is sick—they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires,” Contractor said.

Contractor plans on keeping the software portion of his 3D printer entirely open-source, so that anyone can look at its code. He believes this will allow people to find creative uses for the hardware.

http://rt.com/usa/nasa-3d-pizza-printer-590/

mars_rover_oo_err

Nasa’s $800m Mars Exploration Rovers have accidentally drawn a penis.

The twin exploration vehicles Spirit and Opportunity were launched nine years ago, in an effort to search the surface of Mars for signs of water erosion and possibly even life.

According to Nasa, since then the rovers have driven over more than 10km of Martian land, directed by teams back on Earth combined with autonomous cameras designed to avoid potential problems with the terrain.

It appears that part of the robots’ programming involves spinning in tight circles to test nearby terrain and find new routes.

Humorously, depending on your age perhaps, that has the unfortunate consequence of drawing a certain shape on the surface, which when discovered by Reddit essentially crashed Nasa’s website.

The image was posted on Nasa’s site and appears to be a genuine picture from the Martian surface – albeit one taken at an unfortunate angle.

It’s not clear which of the rovers drew the shape, or even when it was made.

Nasa lost communication with the Spirit rover in 2009 after it became stuck in some sand. Meanwhile the Opportunity is still traversing the surface on its way to the Endeavour crater.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/24/mars-rover-penis-nasa_n_3144656.html

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Radioactive iron may be first fossil imprint of a nearby cosmic explosion.

by Alexandra Witze

Sediment in a deep-sea core may hold radioactive iron spewed by a distant supernova 2.2 million years ago and preserved in the fossilized remains of iron-loving bacteria. If confirmed, the iron traces would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star.

Shawn Bishop, a physicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, reported preliminary findings on 14 April at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver, Colorado.

In 2004, scientists reported finding the isotope iron-60, which does not form on Earth, in a piece of sea floor from the Pacific Ocean. They calculated how long ago this radioactive isotope had arrived by using the rate at which it decays over time. The culprit, they concluded, was a supernova in the cosmic neighbourhood.

Bishop wondered if he could find signs of that explosion in the fossil record on Earth. Some natural candidates are certain species of bacteria that gather iron from their environment to create 100-nanometre-wide magnetic crystals, which the microbes use to orient themselves within Earth’s magnetic field so that they can navigate to their preferred conditions. These ‘magnetotactic’ bacteria live in sea-floor sediments.

So Bishop and his colleagues acquired parts of a sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, dating to between about 1.7 million and 3.3 million years ago. They took sediment samples from strata corresponding to periods roughly 100,000 years apart, and treated them with a chemical technique that extracts iron-60 but not iron from nonbiological sources, such as soil washing off the continents. The scientists then ran the samples through a mass spectrometer to see if any iron-60 was present.

And it was. “It looks like there’s something there,” Bishop told reporters at the Denver meeting. The levels of iron-60 are minuscule, but the only place they seem to appear is in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago. This apparent signal of iron-60, Bishop said, could be the remains of magnetite (Fe3O4) chains formed by bacteria on the sea floor as radioactive supernova debris showered on them from the atmosphere, after crossing inter-stellar space at nearly the speed of light.

No one is sure what particular star might have exploded at this time, although one paper points to suspects in the Scorpius–Centaurus stellar association, at a distance of about 130 parsecs (424 light years) from the Sun3.

“I’m really excited about this,” says Brian Thomas, an astrophysicist at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, who was not involved in the work. “The nice thing is that it’s directly tied to a specific event.”

“For me, philosophically, the charm is that this is sitting in the fossil record of our planet,” Bishop says. He and his team are now working on a second core, also from the Pacific, to see if it too holds the iron-60 signal.

http://www.nature.com/news/supernova-left-its-mark-in-ancient-bacteria-1.12797

cocp2cocp

Coco Brown, who hasn’t made an adult film in a decade, has been training for her flight.

By Jason Koebler

Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. Sally Ride was the first woman in space. Dennis Tito was the first tourist in space. And sometime next year, the human race will eclipse another benchmark, with Coco Brown possibly becoming the first porn star in space.

Brown made headlines earlier this year when Space Expedition Corporation, a German company, announced that the retired porn star had signed up to be on one of its first sub-orbital spaceflights in March 2014. Brown, who hasn’t starred in an adult film since 2003, says she’s quit the industry and is entirely focused on her mission.

“Performing in space isn’t something I ever thought about when I was deciding to do this. I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is something really cool.’ I didn’t think ‘I’m going to try to have sex in space or perform in space,'” she says.

Brown says the opportunity arose when she was invited to a “space lunch” in Berlin, but she quickly discovered that the meeting was being held to discuss the possibility of space tourism.

“I thought they were going to be talking about the universe or something with astronomy or whatever, but then they started talking about flights to space,” she says. “I spent four months deciding whether or not I wanted to do this. The company called me a few times and finally I decided to do it.”

Brown has already completed a zero gravity flight and has begun training in Cape Canaveral. She has several more training missions coming up over the next few weeks. Since agreeing to take the trip, which costs $100,000, Brown says she may be in for more than she bargained for.

“I’m not worried about the fact of actually going to space, but when we come back, NASA wants to do a lot of observations and studies and things,” she says. “We’re some of the first people who are going to space without a specific job to do, so they were telling us all these [emergency contingency plans] and things like that, that made me wonder, ‘Why are they telling us this stuff?’ That kind of thing makes me worry.”

A spokesperson with NASA says they have not worked with Brown and have no plans to train her or conduct experiments on her when she returns.

“NASA does not fly space tourists and does not train them. Nor is NASA involved in postflight studies and observations,” the agency says.

Because she hasn’t performed in a decade, Brown says she wasn’t ready for the media blitz that has followed the announcement. Perhaps predictably, a lot of media focus has been put on whether she’ll make the world’s first porno movie filmed in space. That, she says, depends on what type of space suit she’s given. “They’re always giving us a new suit—I assume the one we use to go to space will be different. I haven’t asked about a special suit,” she says.

Despite the attention, she says she’s focused on being the best astronaut she can be.

“I haven’t done a movie since 2003, so when I decided to do this, the thought of performing in space didn’t even cross my mind. I have nothing against performing and would do it if the right offer comes along,” she says. “But now, my job is to train to be an astronaut.”

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/02/14/retired-porn-star-to-become-first-adult-actress-in-space

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

pluto

Pluto’s orbit may host a formation of 10 or more tiny undiscovered moons, which would each measure just 1 to 3 kilometres across, astronomers say.

This preliminary finding could make life even more difficult for the team planning NASA’s New Horizons mission, which is slated to take the first-ever up-close look at the Pluto system in July 2015.

After Pluto’s fifth known moon, a small satellite known as P5, was discovered last year, officials said they may need to redraw the spacecraft’s path to avoid such obstacles.

In the new study, astronomers led by Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used computer simulations that treat smaller particles statistically.

Once objects get above a certain size, roughly 1 km across, then the programme renders them individually – and this is when the satellites pop up.

It’s hard to say how many there are, the researchers said, as it’s difficult to simulate collisions among these tiny satellites. There could be anywhere from one to more than 10 objects lurking beyond Hydra’s orbit.

While the team can simulate these satellites, they said it’s unlikely they could be spotted, if they exist, from Earth.

The brightness of the potential objects dance with the edge of the Hubble Space Telescope’s capabilities, Kenyon said, and they are likely beyond the reach of even the most sensitive ground-based telescopes, such as the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

New Horizons might be able to spot smaller satellites before it gets there, but Kenyon said he wasn’t sure when the objects would appear big enough for the spacecraft to detect.

The satellites would be “easily visible” during the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto in 2015, researchers said.

The study was submitted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

http://www.phenomenica.com/2013/03/pluto-may-have-10-more-undiscovered-moons.html

mars

Curiosity has found discovered that Mars possesses conditions that could have supported ancient — and future — life, announced NASA scientists during a press conference today.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

Reportedly, the sample taken from the sedimentary rock targeted by Curiosity contains sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon, all key ingredients for life. One NASA scientist referred to the findings as “really something special,” as well as containing up to 20% clay — which is formed by the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous materials.

Additonally, scientists discovered a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals capable of supporting an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth require for survival.

“The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms,” said Paul Mahaffy, a NASA official.

http://www.policymic.com/mobile/articles/29536/mars-rover-finds-all-the-prerequisites-for-life-a-habitable-environment

blackhole
This artist’s concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. It’s surrounded by matter flowing onto the black hole in what is termed an accretion disk. Also shown is an outflowing jet of energetic particles, believed to be powered by the black hole’s spin. High energy X-radiation lights up the disk, which reflects it, making the disk a source of X-rays. The reflected light enables astronomers to see how fast matter is swirling in the inner region of the disk, and ultimately to measure the black hole’s spin rate.

Nothing can escape a black hole, even light, because to wrench away from its titanic gravitational pull, you’d have to move faster than light is capable of traveling. And nothing can do that, as far as anyone knows. As matter falls into a black hole’s gaping maw, it superheats to millions of degrees, screaming a final cry of X-rays as it is torn apart. At a specific point called an event horizon, the matter disappears and is never heard from again.

A pair of X-ray telescopes recently watched some of these X-ray death gasps and were able to figure out how fast a black hole is spinning. This is “hugely important” for black hole science, according to researchers working with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR space telescope. One particularly cool finding: The black hole is spinning almost as fast as Einstein’s theory of gravity says it possibly could. It’s spinning at almost the speed of light.

The galaxy in question is called NGC 1365, which is about twice the size of the Milky Way and located about 60 million light years away. The black hole is about 2 million times more massive than the sun. Scientists using NuSTAR and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite wanted to measure how fast it is spinning. This is a key feature of black holes that is related to their size and the way they gobble up stars, gas and even other black holes.

The problem is that black holes are hard to study, because, you know, not even light can escape them. To measure them, you have to measure their effect on their surroundings–like the X-rays emitted by dying matter. This is hard to do because objects between us and them can get in the way, however, making the X-rays look distorted. There have been two competing models explaining why the X-rays look warped: Either gravitational distortion caused by black hole gravity, or distortion caused by intervening clouds of gas and dust.

In this new study, NuSTAR and XMM-Newton set out to determine which one is right. The telescopes carefully traced the X-rays emitted at the very, very edge of the black hole, right near the event horizon, or the point of no return. By combining their distinct viewing abilities, the two telescopes were able to see a wide range of X-ray energies, and figure out that the X-rays are not actually distorted by intervening gas clouds. They look distorted because the black hole is spinning, and its immense gravity warps spacetime as it swirls around. This information was used to tell just how fast the black hole is spinning: Just below the universal speed limit.

Along with new information about this particular black hole, this study suggests that black hole observations can remove a little bit of ambiguity. This will help astronomers continue to unravel the mysteries of these galactic monsters. A paper describing the findings is published last week in Nature.

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-02/new-telescope-discovery-distant-gargantuan-black-hole-spins-near-light-speed

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Called the “Genesis Rock,” this lunar sample of unbrecciated anorthosite collected during the Apollo 15 mission was thought to be a piece of the moon’s primordial crust. In a paper published online Feb. 17 in Nature Geoscience, a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues report that traces of water were found in the rock. (Credit: Photo courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center)

Traces of water have been detected within the crystalline structure of mineral samples from the lunar highland upper crust obtained during the Apollo missions, according to a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues.

The lunar highlands are thought to represent the original crust, crystallized from a magma ocean on a mostly molten early moon. The new findings indicate that the early moon was wet and that water there was not substantially lost during the moon’s formation.

The results seem to contradict the predominant lunar formation theory — that the moon was formed from debris generated during a giant impact between Earth and another planetary body, approximately the size of Mars, according to U-M’s Youxue Zhang and his colleagues.

“Because these are some of the oldest rocks from the moon, the water is inferred to have been in the moon when it formed,” Zhang said. “That is somewhat difficult to explain with the current popular moon-formation model, in which the moon formed by collecting the hot ejecta as the result of a super-giant impact of a martian-size body with the proto-Earth.

“Under that model, the hot ejecta should have been degassed almost completely, eliminating all water.”

A paper titled “Water in lunar anorthosites and evidence for a wet early moon” was published online Feb. 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience. The first author is Hejiu Hui, postdoctoral research associate of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at the University of Notre Dame. Hui received a doctorate at U-M under Zhang, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and one of three co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper.

Over the last five years, spacecraft observations and new lab measurements of Apollo lunar samples have overturned the long-held belief that the moon is bone-dry.

In 2008, laboratory measurement of Apollo lunar samples by ion microprobe detected indigenous hydrogen, inferred to be the water-related chemical species hydroxyl, in lunar volcanic glasses. In 2009, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing satellite, known as LCROSS, slammed into a permanently shadowed lunar crater and ejected a plume of material that was surprisingly rich in water ice.

Hydroxyls have also been detected in other volcanic rocks and in the lunar regolith, the layer of fine powder and rock fragments that coats the lunar surface. Hydroxyls, which consist of one atom of hydrogen and one of oxygen, were also detected in the lunar anorthosite study reported in Nature Geoscience.

In the latest work, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy was used to analyze the water content in grains of plagioclase feldspar from lunar anorthosites, highland rocks composed of more than 90 percent plagioclase. The bright-colored highlands rocks are thought to have formed early in the moon’s history when plagioclase crystallized from a magma ocean and floated to the surface.

The infrared spectroscopy work, which was conducted at Zhang’s U-M lab and co-author Anne Peslier’s lab, detected about 6 parts per million of water in the lunar anorthosites.

“The surprise discovery of this work is that in lunar rocks, even in nominally water-free minerals such as plagioclase feldspar, the water content can be detected,” said Zhang, the James R. O’Neil Collegiate Professor of Geological Sciences.

“It’s not ‘liquid’ water that was measured during these studies but hydroxyl groups distributed within the mineral grain,” said Notre Dame’s Hui. “We are able to detect those hydroxyl groups in the crystalline structure of the Apollo samples.”

The hydroxyl groups the team detected are evidence that the lunar interior contained significant water during the moon’s early molten state, before the crust solidified, and may have played a key role in the development of lunar basalts.

“The presence of water,” said Hui, “could imply a more prolonged solidification of the lunar magma ocean than the once-popular anhydrous moon scenario suggests.”

The researchers analyzed grains from ferroan anorthosites 15415 and 60015, as well as troctolite 76535. Ferroan anorthosite 15415 is one the best known rocks of the Apollo collection and is popularly called the Genesis Rock because the astronauts thought they had a piece of the moon’s primordial crust. It was collected on the rim of Apur Crater during the Apollo 15 mission.

Rock 60015 is highly shocked ferroan anorthosite collected near the lunar module during the Apollo 16 mission. Troctolite 76535 is a coarse-grained plutonic rock collected during the Apollo 17 mission.

Co-author Peslier is at Jacobs Technology and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The fourth author of the Nature Geoscience paper, Clive Neal, is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at the University of Notre Dame. The work was supported by NASA.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130218132355.htm

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Like a ship plowing through still waters, the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is speeding through space, making waves in the dust ahead. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a dramatic, infrared portrait of these glowing waves, also known as a bow shock.

Astronomers theorize that this star was once sitting pretty next to a companion star even heftier than itself. But when that star died in a fiery explosion, Zeta Ophiuchi was kicked away and sent flying. Zeta Ophiuchi, which is 20 times more massive and 80,000 times brighter than our sun, is racing along at about 54,000 mph (24 kilometers per second).

In this view, infrared light that we can’t see with our eyes has been assigned visible colors. Zeta Ophiuchi appears as the bright blue star at center. As it charges through the dust, which appears green, fierce stellar winds push the material into waves. Where the waves are the most compressed, and the warmest, they appear red. This bow shock is analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water, or the pileup of air ahead of a supersonic airplane that results in a sonic boom.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, released a similar picture of the same object in 2011. WISE sees infrared light as does Spitzer, but WISE was an all-sky survey designed to take snapshots of the entire sky. Spitzer, by contrast, observes less of the sky, but in more detail. The WISE image can be seen at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2011-026 .

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit: http://spitzer.caltech.edu and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121218153330.htm