Stories tagged space

Scratched and dented: This infrared image of Jupiter shows the impact site where something hit the planet last week.
Scratched and dented: This infrared image of Jupiter shows the impact site where something hit the planet last week.Courtesy NASA
It's tough being the big guy on the block. Last week Jupiter got nicked by something flying through space. And an amateur astronomer discovered it. Read more about it here!

The Mythbusters are taking on moon landing conspiracy theorists. And, y'know, if the Mythbusters say it's all true, that's good enough for me.

Jul
18
2009

Apollo 14's remains: Even higher resolution images will be coming from the LRO, when it enters a lower orbit soon.
Apollo 14's remains: Even higher resolution images will be coming from the LRO, when it enters a lower orbit soon.Courtesy NASA
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is NASA's satellite orbiting the moon right now to give us all a much more detailed picture of our nearest space neighbor. Just in time for the 40 anniversary of the moon landing, the LRO has passed by several of the Apollo mission landing spots. In the best photograph you can actually still see the footsteps between the remains of the landing vehicle and the scientific instruments. It's so cool to see the path worn into the lunar landscape still there on this windless world.

Jun
07
2009

More spectacular views from the moon

A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) satellite known as Selene or Kaguya is going to impact the moon Wed., June 10.

HD video of Earth rise as seen from lunar orbit

What impresses me most about this mission are the high definition videos of the moon, and especially one of Earth rising over a lunar landscape.

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Sources

Thanks to MetaFilter and Kottke.org for the links.

May
21
2009

Drinking our waste to our health: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station toasted their first sips of water converted from urine they've expelled during their time in the station.
Drinking our waste to our health: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station toasted their first sips of water converted from urine they've expelled during their time in the station.Courtesy NASA
As we approach the start of the summer cool beverage season, here's an exotic drink you might want to try. Yesterday astronauts on the International Space Station raised their glasses in a special toast to the newest accessory on board their space craft. This device converts their urine, sweat and spit into drinkable water.

And you thought the hardest part of being an astronaut was going to be feeling the G-forces for blast-off and re-entry.

Converting body fluid wastes into water is an essential efficiency for long distance space missions to locations like Mars and beyond. And even with at the space station, the device reduces the amount of water that needs to be transported from Earth by 65 percent.

Six seems to be the operative number with this new contraption. A crew of six on the space station creates enough urine to convert into six gallons of water in six hours. Currently, ISS crews are limited to three people because of limited water supply. Now the station will be able to handle up to six crew members at a time.

The new device directs water from the station's toilet to a special tank where the fluid is boiled, separating the water contents from the urine brine.

Want to learn more? Here are some links about this new space travel technology:

NASA coverage of the new water system
USA Today
Past Buzz coverage on space urine-to-water conversion

May
10
2009

Abandoned McDonald's serves restored lunar photos
Abandoned McDonald's serves restored lunar photosCourtesy jervetson

Historic NASA photos recovered from 40 year old data tapes

When NASA archivist, Nancy Evans, was asked what to do with a 10x20x6 ft pile of data tapes weighing 24 tons she was told that they normally would be destroyed.

"Do not destroy those tapes," Evans commanded.

Only copy of moon photo data nearly scrapped

The 70mm tapes held irreplaceable, extremely high-resolution images of the moon taken during the 1960s by NASA's Lunar Orbiters. Altogether, nearly 2,000 frames were photographed by the five missions. An on-board darkroom developed the lunar images and prepared them for transmission back to Earth. The tapes which can only be read by a $330,000 FR-900 Ampex magnetic tape reader, ended up being stored in an abandoned McDonalds.

Team of volunteers does what NASA wouldn't

A team consisted of Nancy Evans, Dennis Wingo, Keith Cowing of NASA Watch and Ken Zim who had experience of repairing video equipment began a task that NASA said would cost 6 million dollars.

Only one person alive knew how to retrieve the data

Twenty years earlier, Nancy Evans had scrounged the only 4 remaining FR-900 tape drives, each 7 feet tall and weighing nearly a ton, and stored them in her garage. None of them worked. Ken Zim was only one person on Earth who could still refurbish these tape units.

They did it in two years

Now, two years later the team is proudly releasing the first of 2000 photos which have twice the resolution and four times the dynamic range of any previously seen. Click on this link to see the famous "Earth rise seen from the Moon".

Learn more about how technological archeology was used to recover historic moon photos from the 60s

The full details of this sage can be found in the links below. I think you will enjoy reading more. I sure did.

As a kid, I had a great time building and firing off those popular Estes model rockets. The acme of my modeling experience was getting a Saturn V, two-stage rocket that looked just like the ones used for the Apollo moon shots. It was so proud of the mini-missile that stood about two feet tall. On Saturday in Maryland, the mother of all model rockets was launched, another Saturn V model, but this one stood 36 fee tall, weighed nearly a ton and soared eight-tenths of a mile into the sky. Cost of the mission: about $30,000. Click on the video below to see its launch. Obviously, they had no trouble keeping the electrodes connected to the rocket engine wires; and the rocket also did not get tangled in powerlines upon descent – the two banes of my young rocket launching career.

Apr
21
2009

Lyrid location: The image indicates the general region of the sky from which the Lyrid meteors appear to emanate (red dot).
Lyrid location: The image indicates the general region of the sky from which the Lyrid meteors appear to emanate (red dot).Courtesy NASA
Every year the Earth passes through the tail of the Comet Thatcher Comet, and the result is a meteor shower called the Lyrids.

This year the peak is tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, with the best time to look, between midnight and dawn.

Forecasters predict between 10 and 20 meteors an hour during this period, though if the Earth happens to pass through a more dense clump of comet debris the number of comets could increase.

With the current waning crescent moon phase and clear skies in the Twin City metro area, it should make for some great viewing.

If you happen to catch them - let us know how they were!

If you are interested in meteor showers, check out this meteor shower guide for all the info on the meteor showers this year.

Apr
18
2009

Almost everything we'll need, right here: Almost.
Almost everything we'll need, right here: Almost.Courtesy Stefan Thlesen
BTW, Buzzketeers, if I ever catch you using the term “the john” when talking about a toilet, I will erase you from the story of my life. Sure, I just used it, but think I have the right to take possession of that word to divest it of its hurtfulness. Sort of like how ugly people are allowed to call stuff “fugly.”

Anyway, let’s consider the future of energy. We all know that we have to start conserving fossil fuels, so that we can use them with abandon in a dune buggy-filled Mad Max style future. (I like to think of this as “saving it for the party.”) In the mean time, we have to get clever. This week I noticed a couple of stories about people thinking outside the box with regards to energy. In one case, they’re thinking above the box, in the other they’re thinking below the box. (Or maybe they’re thinking in the box. It depends on what you use your boxes for.)

Check it out: a company called Solaren Corp has convinced the largest energy utility in California to purchase 200 megawatts of solar power from them by around 2016. The way they propose getting that power is the interesting thing—they plan on getting it from space.

Wait… that was poorly phrased. All solar power comes from space. What Solaren intends to do is launch a massive array of mirrors (as large as several miles across) into orbit to collect and reflect sunlight onto photoelectric cells. The cells will convert the sunlight into electric power, which will then be converted into radio waves and blasted down to a receiver on Earth. The radio energy will then be turned back into electricity. Solaren claims that the system could eventually generate 1.2 to 4.8 gigawatts of power at a price comparable to that of other alternative energy sources, enough to power 250,000 homes in California. And unlike land-based solar panels, the flow of energy wouldn’t depend on weather, and the orbit would be high enough that the system could provide energy 24 ours a day. They intend to launch it up to about 22,000 miles above the surface of the planet, meaning that it would be just inside of a high Earth orbit, and therefore geosynchronous. (I think.) Pretty neat, huh?

However, getting a couple miles of mirrors up to 22,000 miles above Earth is a little tricky. A little tricky, and super expensive. Building the receiving systems isn’t going to be cheap either. Some folks think that the project is altogether… unlikely. But the California power utility isn’t actually making an investment (i.e., taking a risk) they just promised to buy the power when it’s there (or if). But that commitment is probably comforting for investors.

Solaren says that the radio waves being sent back to Earth will be one sixth the intensity of sunlight. But what kind of radio waves are we talking about here? Visible light is composed of radio waves. So are radio, um, radio waves. Nope, we’re talking about microwaves. Microwaves have the advantage of being pretty high-energy. They have the disadvantage of being a little scary to me. And to other people. But it seems like it’s not all that dangerous; the center of the microwave beam would have an intensity of about 23 milliwatts per square centimeter. The limit for workplace exposure to microwaves in the US is 10 mw/cm2, so obviously 23 mw/cm2 is beyond what the government considers safe, but the area of maximum intensity is relatively small. Near the outside of the receiving array, the intensity would be closer to 1 mw/cm2. Birds flying through the center of the beam could have some trouble, and small aircraft and hot air balloons would do well to avoid it, but the metal shell of conventional planes should protect passengers entirely (the same way that your metal microwave protects you from the forces cooking your food). I suppose a super-villain could always hack into the satellite controls, and re-aim the system at a neighborhood. But that’s assuming that it ever gets built.

So from pie in the sky (a huge mirror pie), let’s turn our attention to fudge underground. It doesn’t have quite the sunshiny appeal of space mirrors, but it’s a little more feasible at the moment.

Remember how, in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome, Master Blaster was harvesting methane fuel from pig feces? Well, that works in the real world too, and not just with pig feces.

Consider the following: if you were to safe all of your… solid waste for one year, you could produce an amount of fuel equivalent to about 2.1 gallons of diesel fuel. I know—it doesn’t seem as much a it should, right? But if a city of 250,000 people was converting its waste into fuel, they’d have enough to drive 80 buses 62,000 miles each. If that figure sounds oddly specific, it’s only because that’s what Oslo, Norway intends to do. The city is all set to fuel its public transportation with brown gold. (Or with the biomethane produced by it.)

The cost of producing an amount of biomethane equivalent to a liter of diesel fuel comes to about 98 cents, while a liter of diesel costs about $1.30 at the pumps in Norway. And, unlike some other biofuels we won’t mention, it only gets into your food supply after you’ve eaten it.

Because the fuel comes from recently grown organic materials, it’s supposed to be carbon neutral, which is good. The article doesn’t say how energy intensive the process of making it is, though. Also, methane itself is a pretty bad greenhouse gas, but I suppose if it’s all burned efficiently that shouldn’t be a problem. (Burned methane makes CO2 and water.)

Energy may be plentiful in the future. We’ll just have to watch where we step.

Mysterious material on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars Lander
Mysterious material on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars LanderCourtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech
In photographs taken by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander there appear to be droplets of some kind of liquid. Is it water from just below the planet's surface? Some scientists suspect that this is exactly what you see in the photograph here. Although the temperature of the area where the photographs were taken never warmed above -15 degrees Fahrenheit during the spacecraft's mission, scientists think that salts called Perchlorates may have lowered the freezing point of the water, making liquid droplets possible at this temperature. Other scientists disagree, saying that the low-resolution photographs show clumps of frost or may have been formed by heat from the spacecraft's thrusters. This article explains more about the debate. What do you think?