After months of analysis, NASA has posted this ScienceCasts report of a large meteoroid impact on the Moon on March 17, 2013. Lunar impacts aren't uncommon - hundreds occur each year - but this one was the brightest flash recorded in the eight year span of the agency's lunar monitoring program. NASA estimates that a 40 kg space rock slamming into the Mare Imbrium region caused the visible-to-the-naked-eye explosion. The bright flash wasn't produced by combustion - the Moon has no atmosphere - but by the glow of hot vapors and molten lunar rock heated up by the tremendous kinetic force of the impact.
Courtesy Virgin GalacticThis morning high above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fired its engines in air for the first time, making its first step toward putting a commercial, tourist space craft into space. As opposed to traditional ground-fired rockets, SpaceShipTwo is carried up into the upper atmosphere by a jet plane, cut loose and then fires its engines to boost it toward space. Today's test took the craft up to 45,000 feet with its partner. The blast shoot it up to 55,000 feet for about a 10 minutes. Here is a link to video of the firing. And here is a link to our previous posts about SpaceShipTwo.
I had an interesting discussion related to the many and dramatic ways a person would perish when exposed to the vacuum of space recently. We discussed the many dramatic and horrific things that would happen. Blood boiling, eyes popping out... Turns out to be a lot less dramatic. Here is what NASA has to say about what happens to the body when exposed to the vacuum of space.
If you don't try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you'll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts -- and experiments confirm -- that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.
Various minor problems (sunburn, possibly "the bends", certainly some [mild, reversible, painless] swelling of skin and underlying tissue) start after ten seconds or so. At some point you lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. Injuries accumulate. After perhaps one or two minutes, you're dying. The limits are not really known.
You do not explode and your blood does not boil because of the containing effect of your skin and circulatory system. You do not instantly freeze because, although the space environment is typically very cold, heat does not transfer away from a body quickly. Loss of consciousness occurs only after the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood. If your skin is exposed to direct sunlight without any protection from its intense ultraviolet radiation, you can get a very bad sunburn.
At NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now renamed Johnson Space Center) we had a test subject accidentally exposed to a near vacuum (less than 1 psi) in an incident involving a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber back in '65. He remained conscious for about 14 seconds, which is about the time it takes for O2 deprived blood to go from the lungs to the brain. The suit probably did not reach a hard vacuum, and we began repressurizing the chamber within 15 seconds. The subject regained consciousness at around 15,000 feet equivalent altitude. The subject later reported that he could feel and hear the air leaking out, and his last conscious memory was of the water on his tongue beginning to boil.
So, bad things clearly happen. Just not the very dramatic bad things I, and lots of others, had previously imagined.
Courtesy NASATo paraphrase Capt. Kirk, we've now gone boldly where no one has gone before. After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, NASA's Voyager I spacecraft has officially left our solar system. Measuring instruments on the craft no longer defect the movement of solar wind, which is the movement of particles influenced by energy released by our Sun, around Voyager I. Following not too far behind is Voyager II, which as covered about 9.5 billion miles. You can learn more about the milestone by clicking here.
UPDATE: Wait a second, NASA isn't agreeing with this analysis on Voyager I's location. You can read more about this brewing science controversy here. Does Pluto have anything to do with this?
This amazing video from NASA (via EarthSky) shows an incredibly gigantic eruption on the Sun's surface that produced three different types of events: a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a really interesting and rare phenomenon known as coronal rain.
Coronal rain occurs when hot plasma in the eruption cools and condenses then follows the outline of the normally invisible magnetic fields as it rains back to the Sun's chromosphere. I found that particularly amazing to see.
The images were gathered on July 19, 2012 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. One frame was shot every 12 seconds over a span of 21.5 hours from 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT. The video plays at a rate of 30 frames per second, so each second equals 6 minutes of real time.
What's extra cool is when the scale of this thing is compared to the size of Earth. If you were feeling small earlier today, you should be feeling microscopic after watching this.
Last week's meteor in Russia is being compared to the Tunguska event that took place in Siberia over a century ago. We posted about it previously, so if you're wondering what that was exactly, you can learn all about it here:
Courtesy NASA/JPLLast week could have been called "Chicken Little Week" with the near miss of Earth by an asteroid and and the dazzling, but havoc-producing meteor crossing through the Russian skies. Have you taken off your safety helmet yet?
While it takes an extraordinary week like that to make most of us think about the dangers looming out in space, there are researchers dedicated to tracking the dangerous projectiles in space. Here's a great report on public and private research groups keeping track of the random traffic in the skies.
Interestingly, they claim that we only really spot about 10 percent of the miscellaneous space stuff that could collide with Earth. And, they're not just settling for trying to pinpoint where the problems are. They're trying to figure out ways to deflect or break-up potentially damaging space threats. Taking it one step higher, some are even investigating ways to mine key minerals from these threats to Earth.
This is very cool, especially on the day an asteroid is making a near-miss (or near-hit) passing of Earth. From what I can gather, a bolide entered Earth's atmosphere about 20-30 miles above somewhere in Russia causing debris to rain down and blow out windows in buildings. Someone recorded a spectacular video of the bolide coming in and burning up in the sky. The original posting was removed but the video has now reappeared online. The second video records some of the debris making landfall.
The Mars rover, Curiosity, has made an historic drilling into rock on the surface of Mars. The feat is a first in planetary exploration.
"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America," said John Grotizinger, the mission's lead scientist.“
The next step is to have the extracted gray powdered rock analyzed by Curiosity's on-board laboratory to determine the sample's chemistry and mineralogy,
Courtesy NASACan we expect to get more than 10 years out of our cars today? At best, they get listed as a "late model" vehicle in some classified ads. So how about our space cars?
This week the Mars rover Opportunity is marking its tenth year of rolling around the Red Planet. Not too shabby for something that was designed for just a quick three-month life span. It's partner rover, Spirit, seized up and got permanently stuck in sand three years ago. And now both vehicles are being overshadowed by Curiosity, the high-tech rover that just landed on Mars five months ago.
Like any older vehicle, Opportunity has its quirks. It gets around mostly in reverse these days because one of the front wheels doesn't turn well. Its robot arm needs some extra coaxing from operators to get jobs done. But it's still collecting samples and data. It total, it's logged 22 miles across the Martian terrain. Not too shabby for a late model rover.
Here's a link to NASA's webpage of photos and information that Opportunity has collected over the years.