Tag Archives: space

NASA Is Seeking Help In Potentially Finding Life On Jupiter’s Moon Europa (Video)

NASA is confident that underneath Jupiter’s moon Europa there could be more water than in our oceans here on Earth. So naturally, Europa has attracted a lot of attention, encouraging the curious to ask, “Could there be life on Europa?”.

Currently, NASA is aiming to send a new mission to Europa by 2025. The White House’s 2015 federal budget allocates $15 million towards making this Europa mission a reality.

Europa has recently become one of NASA’s main focuses because,  out of all the other planetary bodies in our solar system, it has arguably the greatest chance of harboring life.

From Space.com…


“Every 10 years, the U.S. National Research Council, a nonprofit organization that advises the government, issues a report that recommends a planetary exploration strategy for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The current report (which covers 2013 to 2022) ranks an exploration of Europa among the highest priority missions. According to the report, the future mission should focus on taking a closer look at the ocean that scientists suspect lies below the surface; characterizing its icy crust and looking for any subsurface liquid water; determining the surface composition and chemistry; examining surface features and identifying landing areas for future missions; and understanding the purpose of its magnetosphere — the magnetic field surrounding the celestial body. NASA officials said the instrument proposals should focus on at least one of these exploration goals. The announcement calls for instruments designed for a spacecraft that will orbit Europa or complete several flybys, since astronomers do not yet have enough data to pinpoint safe landing sites on the icy moon.”


The video below describes Europa in more detail.

NASA hopes that by providing monetary incentives to private parties, they will encourage competition and innovation, leading to affordable development processes for the instruments necessary for new missions like the upcoming one to Europa.

Two of the main challenges for teams developing instruments are overcoming Jupiter’s high levels of radiation and making sure that no organic material from Earth (like microorganisms, for example) is introduced to Europa’s potentially habitable surface.

The competition ends in April 2015. NASA will select the top 20 proposals, rewarding $25 million to each of the selected teams to further advance their designs for their instruments. NASA will also select eight winners whose instruments will be developed and actually used in NASA’s mission to Europa.

This competition is included in NASA’s budget to get to Europa, according to Space.com…

“NASA is in the process of designing a mission that will cost less than $1 billion and will still meet as many of the exploration goals as possible.”

Check out NASA’s full guidelines for Europa mission science instrument ideas here.

You can also learn more about how Europa works in this infographic from Space.com (click to enlarge):

NASA: “In the Next 20 Years We Will Find Out We Are Not Alone in the Universe”

The search for extra-terrestrial life has been one NASA’s most important missions in recent years. NASA has estimated that in our galaxy alone, there are 100 million planets that cold possibly host alien life.

Speaking at their Washington headquarters on Monday, NASA outlined new plans to use current telescope technology to help in the search. They also announced that they would be launching the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017 to aid in the search.

“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,”

said Matt Mountain, who serves as director at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The Institute will be launching the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 to help in the search as well.

Mountain also added,

“What we didn’t know five years ago is that perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of stars around us have Earth-size planets in the habitable zone… It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.”

Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden also weighed in on the announcement:

“Do we believe there is life beyond Earth? I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the universe we humans stand alone.”

Read the original story from CBS News here.

Buzz Aldrin’s New Campaign Aims to Build Awareness About The Apollo 11 Mission (Video and Photo Gallery)

The second man to ever step on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, is endorsing a new project that’s being called “Apollo 45″. The campaign aims to increase awareness about all Apollo missions and Apollo 11′s historic lunar landing.

The 45th anniversary of that monumental landing is this month (July 26). Aldrin feels that,

“We need to remind the world about the Apollo missions and that we can still do impossible things.”

Aldrin, along with fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, launched towards the moon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969.

Collins orbited the moon in the command module as Buzz and Neil set foot on the Moon for the first time in mankind’s history. The pair spent a total of 21.5 hours on the moon’s surface during the mission.

Check out the video below to learn more about the project, including who is currently involved and how you can get involved as well.

According to Miriam Kramer from Space.com:

“Aldrin is asking people around the world to share their memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing via social media by uploading recollections of the landing to Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #Apollo45. The Apollo 45 YouTube page will be used to promote videos uploaded by people around the world remembering Apollo 11, which touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969.”

Also…

“Aldrin will be in the Space.com offices on July 14 for a Google Hangout about the Apollo anniversary. Do you have anything you’d like to ask the moonwalker? Send in your questions via Twitter to @Spacedotcom or you can find us on Facebook and Google+. You can also leave your questions in the comments section below this article.

Aldrin will share special videos celebrating Apollo from July 10 until the anniversary on July 20. You can learn more about the project through the Apollo 45 YouTube page.

Check out some images from the Apollo 11 mission below.

 

This Is What An Erupting Volcano Looks Like from the Space Station (GIF)

On June 12, 2009, the International Space Station’s orbit happened to take it over the Kuril Islands (northeast Japan).

The Kuril Islands were built by volcanic activity and still have active volcanoes. The most active is Sarychev Peak, located on the northwestern end of Matua Island.

Although Sarychev Peak hadn’t erupted since 1989, it was somewhat overdue for one, considering it had previously erupted in 1986, 1976, 1954, and 1946.

By a stroke of luck, the ISS was flying overhead when Sarychev Peak was in the early stages of its eruption on that June day in 2009, and captured a series of amazing images which were converted into the incredible GIF below:

The images (which you can view frame by frame courtesy of NASA here) are remarkable for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there was little to no shearing wind to spread and disperse the ash plume, so the ISS was able to capture crucial features of the eruption, like the pyroclastic flow at the base.

Click to enlarge

The small white cloud at the top of the ash plume is known as a pileus cloud. It was formed as the eruption rapidly pushed the moist air above the island upwards with the plume. As this moist air is pushed upwards, it cools and condenses, forming a cloud. When a pileus cloud in above an eruption or explosion, it’s called an “ice cap”.

One of the coolest features of these images has actually caused a bit of controversy in the science world. If you look around the edges of the images, you will see that the ash plume is emerging from a large circular opening in the clouds.

When the photo was originally published, NASA postulated that the hole was “punched” through the clouds by the upward shockwave of the eruption. But this explanation sparked a debate between meteorologists, geoscientists, and volcanologists who viewed the images. SInce then, two other possible theories have been proposed.

One is that the hole has nothing to do with the eruption at all. In areas where islands are surrounded by oceans with cool surface temperature, it is very common for sheets of clouds to form and drift along with the low-level winds.

When these clouds drift over an island, the moist air closer to the surface is pushed up by the island. Since the air above the marine layer (where the clouds form) is dryer and warmer than the air over the water, the portion of the cloud over the island evaporates, leaving a hole.

Though it looks similar, this type of hole-punch cloud is created when supercooled water droplets (water that is below the freezing point but still in liquid form) in the cloud suddenly separate out into ice crystals and vapor, which quickly evaporates leaving behind a hole. Click to enlarge

The final theory is that as the ash plume rises, the air above it flows down its sides, like water flowing off the back of a surfacing whale. As this air falls, it tends to warm, which could also cause an evaporation of the clouds around the volcano plume.

Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that watching a volcano erupt from space is a truly mesmerizing site.

Check out the original post from NASA’s Earth Observatory here.

Watch Astronauts Play Soccer and Do Goal Celebrations in Zero Gravity on the ISS (Video)

The World Cup is in full swing, with billions of people tuning in to watch the games all over the planet. But there are also a couple of guys watching the world’s largest sporting event from space.

To commemorate the start of the tournament, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson joined German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency to create this awesome video of them practicing some moves in zero-G.

Then yesterday they released this video of their best goal celebrations:

This is the second World Cup that astronauts have viewed from the International Space Station (they also tuned in for the 2010 Cup). It’s pretty fitting that the astronauts are watching a tournament that brings together countries from all over the world- the ISS itself was built by five different space agencies representing 15 different countries.

The German and American astronauts actually made a bet over yesterday’s game: if the U.S. won, they could draw a U.S. flag on Gerst’s bald head. But if the U.S. lost, both the American’s had to shave their heads. I hope Gerst isn’t rubbing in that German win too much though.

(h/t Space.com)

Sophisticated Spacecraft: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Reusable Successful Test Flight (Video)

Last month, on May 2, SpaceX conducted a test flight of their new Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) spacecraft. Check out the video below to see it in action.

The “rocketcams” in the video feature a shot from the nose of the rocket followed by video footage from the ground. The test flight took place in McGregor, Texas under a FAA Experimental Permit.

*The coolest part is the landing in my opinion*

This was a successful 1000m test flight of the F9R, a developing spacecraft that will have the ability to carry astronauts to and from space.

The “steerable fins” included on this spacecraft are unique and allow the rocket to carefully maneuver in mid-air to facilitate a smoother landing. These types of steerable fins have been used on smaller spacecraft by SpaceX earlier this year, but they are now incorporating them on their more important and larger crafts, like the F9R.

The successful testing of the F9R means that SpaceX may soon be sending U.S. astronauts to the ISS (right now we’re contracting Russian shuttles to launch them into orbit). Rocket development and the growth of the space industry are truly in full steam.

Ellen Stofan, Chief NASA Scientist: Our plan is to colonize Mars

Ellen Stofan, is one of NASA’s chief scientists, and is the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs, planning and investments.

Yesterday, she sat down for an interview with The Guardian to talk about NASA, Mars, space and the future of space exploration and colonization.

NASA Scientist Ellen Stofan

During the interview, the host asked Stofan the following question:

“Is Nasa going to send humans to Mars just to show that it can?”

Stofan responded,

“Well, I’m biased because I’m a field geologist. Humans can actually read a landscape, go through a lot of rocks – crack them open, throw them, pick up the next one. Rovers are great, they do amazing science, but it is a lot more tedious process – they go much less far than a human can cover in a day. Having humans on the surface is how I think we are going to be able to demonstrate totally conclusively that life did evolve on Mars.”

The interviewer responded with the following:

“There is a lot of talk about settling Mars. Will Nasa be bringing its astronauts back?”

Stofan had this to say:

“We would definitely plan on bringing them back. We like to talk about pioneering Mars rather than just exploring Mars, because once we get to Mars we will set up some sort of permanent presence.”

Stofan also answered questions about NASA’s search for extra-terrestrial life, the risks of contaminating Mars, and space junk, among other things. You can listen to the interview below or read more of the transcripts from The Guardian here.

The “ISSpresso”: Coffee In Space (Video)

This November Samantha Cristoforetti, the first female Italian astronaut in space, will deliver the “ISSpresso” to the International Space Station (ISS).

For the first time astronauts aboard the ISS will be able to enjoy freshly brewed cups of coffee. It’s amazing to believe that despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into the ISS, astronauts still don’t have access to a simple cup of Joe.

Thankfully this is going to soon change, according to The Independent

“the ISSpresso: a specially designed machine created by Italian coffee manufacturer Lavazza and aerospace specialist Argotec that is capable of producing an “authentic Italian espresso” in space.”

Aside from the tremendous costs associated with anything that goes to or from the ISS, one of the main challenges for making coffee in space is overcoming the lack of gravity on the ISS. The last thing you want is scolding coffee droplets floating around in the morning.

Fortunately the “ISSpresso” has been designed to overcome zero gravity and according to The Independent,

“The ISSpresso weighs 20kg and includes “back-ups of all the critical components,” with a heavily-modified design tackling the unique problems of making coffee in a microgravity environment as the ISS hurtles through space nearly 400km above Earth.”

Check out the video below to learn more about the “ISSpresso” …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPohtbijBGE 

A Few Reasons Why Tomorrow Might Be A Bit of a Strange Day…

Tomorrow will not be your ordinary Friday. For starters, tomorrow is the 13th, making tomorrow a Friday the 13th.

There will also be a full moon in the sky when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The last time that happened? October 13, 2000. The next time it will happen? August 13, 2049.

I’m not one for superstitions, but there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. Our sun has been shooting off powerful solar flares the last few days, including this one captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory early Tuesday morning:

Three recent solar X-flares emitted by the Sun. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NASA/SDO)

Solar flares are brief, high-radiation eruptions that happen on the surface of the Sun. The three flares emitted in the past two days (pictured above) have been X-flares, the most powerful classification of solar flare. X-flares emit radiation at virtually every wavelength, from radio waves, to the light we can see, to x-rays and gamma rays.

Because of all of the different electromagnetic waves that the flares emit, they can disrupt communications here on Earth. In fact, the flare in the video above caused a temporary radio blackout here on Earth, according to Space.com.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

Did I mention CMEs? CME stands for coronal mass ejection. This occurs when a powerful solar flare emits a plasma burst along with the radiation. A plasma burst can cause polar geomagnetic storms which are capable of severely disrupting communications and satellite systems, including GPS.

Along with having the potential to cause low levels of radiation poisoning in humans, a strong CME would also create surges in electrical wires, destroying transformers and leaving millions without power.

Despite the scary stuff, CME’s are pretty fascinating. These plasma burst clouds actually compresses Earth’s own magnetic field, which is what causes so many of the potential issues.

Artist depiction of how a CME plasma burst interacts with Earth’s magnetoshpere (Courtesy of NASA)

At first, officials at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center didn’t think that the flare in the video above had emitted a CME, only to find later that it had actually produced two of them.

They are expected to give Earth a glancing blow when they reach Earth orbit…tomorrow, Friday the 13th.

Watch A Four-Year Timelapse of A Mysterious Cosmic Explosion Captured By the Hubble Telescope (Video)

Back in January of 2002, astronomers witnessed a huge explosion from the star V838 Monocerotis, a red variable star about 20,000 light years away from our Sun.

At first, they thought it was a typical supernova (the explosion of a dying star), but after watching the explosion dim then brighten twice over a period of only a few months (supernovas will usually only dim after the initial bright explosion), astronomers really weren’t sure what they were dealing with.

Check out a time-lapse of the explosion from 2002-2006 below (full screen highly suggested).

So what exactly is going on with this explosion? Well, there are five possibilities that have been proposed so far:

  1. The explosion was a supernova, just a very unique one with a multi-outburst pattern, which would explain the multiple brightening and dimming events. Most scientists agree that the large size and young age of the stars in that region makes this explanation unlikely, however.
  2. The explosion was a thermal pulse. When moderately-sized stars run out of fuel, they explode (in a supernova), leaving behind a dense core of hydrogen and helium. Sometimes this hydrogen and helium core can be re-ignited, illuminating the layers of ejected star material from the supernova explosion. Again, however, the star’s young age makes this possibility unlikely.
  3. Another theory also proposes a helium flash, but one that occurred as a result of thermonuclear processes in a massive supergiant star. Supergiants can be large enough for an outer layer of helium to ignite and start the fusion process without the whole star being destroyed. This theory fits with the star’s age, but it doesn’t seem that V838 Monocerotis had enough mass for this process occur.
  4. Planetary capture: when a star grows to large proportions, it can start consuming nearby planets. The friction generated when a very large planet gets pulled apart by the star’s gravity can produce enough energy to spark deuterium fusion, which releases massive amounts of energy (like what we see in the time-lapse).
  5. The explosion was a result of a mergeburst. Sometimes, in clusters of younger stars (where orbits can be very unstable), two main-sequence stars can collide, creating an explosion similar to the one in the video. The relatively young age of the stars near V838 Monocerotis make this a reasonable possibility, and this hypothesis has also been supported by computer modeling.

It’s awesome to study the stars and find out exactly why they act the way they do, but sometimes explanations can be elusive. So while we search for answers, we should also make sure we take the time to simply enjoy watching this mesmerizing cosmic phenomenon.

(h/t Gizmodo)