For a long time, Earth was the weirdest planet we knew about. In our little corner of the universe, where Mercury is the hot one, Jupiter is the protective bigger brother, and Pluto is the one we kicked out of the club for breaking the rules, Earth is the crazy cat lady, hoarding billions of life forms.
According to the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (Lambda-CDM) model, which is the current accepted standard for how the universe began and evolved, the ordinary matter we encounter every day only makes up around five percent of the universe’s density, with dark matter comprising 27 percent, and the remaining 68 percent made up of dark energy, a so-far theoretical force driving the expansion of the universe. But a new study has questioned whether dark energy exists at all, citing computer simulations that found that by accounting for the changing structure of the cosmos, the gap in the theory, which dark energy was proposed to fill, vanishes.
It is set to become the largest rocket ever built, dwarfing the rockets that took man to the moon and paving the way for manned missions to Mars.
NASA today reveal stunning new pictures of its SLS (Space Launch System), which will eventually be capable of lifting 130 tons into orbit.
The rocket will be used to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and to help us explore the outer reaches of the solar system.
It is even hoped the craft could play a role in manned missions to Mars, being able to launch ‘stepping stone’ bases into orbit.
‘The potential use of SLS for science will further enhance the synergy between scientific exploration and human exploration,’ said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
A black hole has been found to be pumping out of iron and nickel into the universe – spewing out more powerful jets that scientists first thought.
Black holes usually put out jets of low-mass particles, thousands of light-years long, into surrounding galaxies.
These jets recycle matter and energy into space and can affect when and where a galaxy forms stars.
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Would be astronauts looking to book the trip of a lifetime are being offered the chance to float into space in a high tech balloon.
A Spanish company plans on offering the ultimate day trip to near-space in two years time – just enough time to start saving for the £95,000 ($142,000) ticket.
During the flight, passengers will be able to stand up and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Earth, experience weightlessness and even eat a meal if they desire.
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The ëblooní is the brainchild of Spanish entrepreneur Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, boss of Barcelona-based Zero2Infinity.
Space tourists will journey to earth’s outer limits in a capsule that can hold six people – four passenger and two pilots.
Annelie Schoenmaker of Zero2Infinity, said: ‘The ride will be very gentle and peaceful as well as environmentally friendly.
‘Passengers will be able to see the sun and the stars at the same time, while looking down on the curvature of the earth.’
Russian adventurer Artemy Lebedev who is one of the few people on the planet to have visited every country, has already signed up for a trip to near-space.
Commercial operations will begin in 2015 but a trip for four people will cost around £95,000.
Ms Schoenmaker said: ‘The experience will be very much like that in an aeroplane although there will be a period of about 30 seconds when passengers will experience weightlessness and will be able to float around the cabin.
‘Everything is customised to the person’s individual requirements. We can partition off part of the cabin for those who want more privacy and we can even serve them Michelin star meals if that’s what they want.’
Zero2Infinitydevelops technologies to enable cost-efficient access to near-space with zero-environmental impact flying solutions.
While it currently offers trips for scientific researchers as well as equipment in its ‘Bloon’ pods, it is targeting couples and families with this new venture.
Zero2Infinity’s largest pod, which carries six people, has 15 square metres of windows for amazing views of the Earth and space.
The company is currently doing test flights and raising more investment for its new venture.
JOURNEY OF THE BLOON TO THE EDGE OF SPACE
- The balloons lift off from an aerodrome in Cordoba, Spain – although the location has not been confirmed
- Ascent from the Earth’s surface to an altitude of 36 kilometers takes just one hour
- The balloon and pod fly for around two hours at a height that is twice that of Concorde’s cruising altitude
- The balloon vents gas to descend like a normal hot air balloon
- The pod separates from the balloon, attached to a para-foil, which allows the passengers to experience zero gravity for around two minutes
- Guided descent to a landing area takes around 40 minute
The company usually takes researchers and scientific experiments into near-space.
Its balloons offer scientists the chance to so earth and space observations, study atmospheric science, demonstrate technology in zero gravity conditions and conduct drop testing.
Zero2Gravity recently collaborated with Spanish university, Universitat Jaume, to send its humanoid robot called NAO into space.
The collaboration aims to advance in the development of robotics by offering a real platform to test university’s research in robotic intelligence.
Attribution: Sarah Griffiths, Mail Online
The Universe is Alive
“Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery
When you look out into the Universe, what is it that you typically think of? Do you think of reliable, fixed stars and constellations? The vast expanse of the Milky Way, with its memorable dust lanes and amorphous shapes?
Image credit: Martha Haynes of Cornell University.The stars in our night sky shift positions by many kilometers each second. From night-to-night we might not be able to tell the difference, but just as you or I look different when we go weeks without cutting our hair, we can see just how the Universe changes over long enough timescales.
There are gas clouds and stellar remnants tearing through the interstellar medium at these same speeds, including some that move at thousands of kilometers-per-second, even approaching 1% the speed of light!
Attribution: Ethan Siegel
The orbital balloon: NASA tests blow-up space-craft
A prototype inflatable module is to be tested aboard the International Space Station to give astronauts an extra bedroom, NASA has announced.
The inflatable module can be compressed into a 7ft tube for delivery, and is being heralded as a key component of future exploration and the development of commercial space travel and research.
It is designed by Bigelow Aerospace, based in Las Vegas, which has been awarded a $17.8 million (£11m) test project for the inflatable room – and hopes to develop space hotels and even planetary bases using the technology.
Bigelow Aerospace president Robert Bigelow, left, and NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver with a one third scale model of the inflatable room
Astronauts will test the ability of the bladder, known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, to withstand heat, radiation, debris and other assaults.
Some adventurous scientists might also try sleeping in the spare room, which is the first piece of private property to be blasted into space, NASA said.
Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator, said as she unveiled the contract award that the inflatable module concept is simultaneously cutting edge technology and affordable.
‘This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation,’ she said.
‘The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods.’
Part of NASA’s interest in the inflatable technology is prompted by its potential for deep space missions.
If the module proves durable during two years at the space station, it could open the door to habitats on the moon and missions to Mars, Nasa engineer Glen Miller said.
The agency chose Bigelow for the contract because it was the only company working on inflatable technology, said NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver.
An artist’s rendering of Bigelow Aerospace’s balloon-like module attached to the International Space Station
Founder and president Robert Bigelow, who made his fortune in the hotel industry before getting into the space business in 1999, framed the gambit as an out-of-this-world property venture.
He hopes to sell his spare-tire habitats to scientific companies and wealthy adventurers looking for space hotels.
NASA is expected to install the 13ft blimp-like module in a space station port by 2015.
Mr Bigelow plans to begin selling stand-alone space homes the next year.
The new technology provides three times as much room as the existing aluminium models, and is also easier and less costly to build, Mr Miller said.
Artist renderings of the module resemble a tin-foil clown nose grafted on to the main station. It is hardly big enough to be called a room.
Mr Miller described it as a large closet with padded white walls and gear and gizmos strung from two central beams.
Bizarre weather is not restricted to Earth. Hurricane Sandy was a speck of dust compared to some of the cataclysms currently taking place around the solar system. Jupiter, for example, is going through a tumultuous time right now. The gas giant has suffered more meteor impacts in the past four years than has ever been observed, and large cloud formations are spontaneously changing color or disappearing as quickly as they form.
But Jupiter is not the only planet in our solar system that experiences bizarre weather. Icy methane rainstorms, planet-wide sand storms, and lead-melting temperatures afflict other planets and their moons. Check out the weather forecast around the solar system, then go enjoy the weather outside—whatever it may be, it’s bound to be better than any of the following.
A 300-Year-Old Hurricane Three Times the Size of Earth
This famous megastorm, dubbed the Great Red Spot, is at least400 years old and dates back to the time when Galileo first aimed his telescope at Jupiter and its moons in the early 1600s—so for all we know, the storm could be much older than that. Scientists believe the storm might owe its red color to sulfur in the atmosphere, but they remain uncertain about what precisely gives it its crimson hue.
In the past couple of years, a new sibling storm has erupted. The Little Red Spot, or Red Spot Jr., formed from the merger of three smaller white-colored storms in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere.
The Little Red Spot, at center in the picture above, has kept growing since it was discovered in 2006 and is now about the size of Earth—and with wind speeds of 400 mph, it is now spinning as fast as its larger predecessor.
Dry Ice Snow
We’ve known for a while there’s water ice on Mars, both on the northern polar ice cap and away from it, but in September, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected carbon-dioxide snow clouds and snowfall. It’s the first evidence of this kind of snow anywhere in our solar system. This photograph from July 2011 (toward the end of the Martian summer) shows what happens when warm weather causes a section of the vast carbon-dioxide ice cap to sublimate directly into gas, leaving behind oddly-shaped, seemingly gold-lined pits around the Red Planet’s south pole.
Venus is like Earth on (sulfuric) acid. Its atmosphere is made of dense carbon-dioxide clouds and this extremely corrosive substance, which can explode when water is added. The acid precipitates from clouds, but due to the extreme temperatures, it evaporates before reaching the ground, making for some very short-lived acid rain.
Greenhouse Effect From Hell
Similar to Earth only in size and shape, Venus was taken over by a runaway greenhouse effect millions of years ago and turned into a hellish nightmare hot enough to melt lead. The planet has scorching temperatures of 860 degrees Fahrenheit or more year-round and a crushing atmosphere with more than 90 times the pressure of Earth’s. It’s no wonder probes that landed on the second planet from the Sun have survived only a few hours before being destroyed.
Supersonic Methane Winds
Clouds of frozen methane whirl across Neptune, our solar system’s windiest world, at more than 1,200 mph—similar to the top speed of a U.S. Navy fighter jet. Meanwhile, Earth’s most powerful winds hit a puny 250 mph. Some cloud formations, such as a swift-moving one called “scooter,” circle the planet every 16 hours. Neptune’s top wind layer blows in the opposite direction to the planet’s rotation, which could mean there’s a slushy interior of thick layers of warmer water clouds beneath the methane.
Featured above is the Great Dark Spot, which was believed to be similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot—a fast cyclonic storm like a hurricane or typhoon. But the Hubble Space Telescope disproved that when it showed the spot disappearing and reappearing somewhere else in the planet. Scientists then speculated that the megastorm might be a hole in the methane clouds, like our very own, now-shrinking hole in the ozone layer.
Erratic, Gigantic Dust Storms
Because of a dry, rocky, desert-like surface, dust storms are very common on Mars. They can engulf the entire planet, raise the atmospheric temperature by up to 30 degrees Celsius, and last for weeks. The storm pictured above, though huge, lasted less than 24 hours. It spread along the north seasonal polar cap edge in late northern winter in a region called Utopia Planitia.
Tornadoes and Dust Devils
A dust devil about half a mile high swirls over a sandy Martian surface on a late spring afternoon. Winds on Mars are powered by solar-heat convection currents, as they are on other planets, including Earth. During spring, when Mars is the farthest from the sun, the planet gets less sunlight, but even then dust devils relentlessly scour the surface and move around freshly deposited dust. This dust devil, 30 yards wide, was whirling around the Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, looks a lot like Earth in its cloud cover and terrain. Except this moon’s clouds are made of methane. Titan has a methane cycle that is similar to the Earth’s water cycle. Since methane has a much lower melting point than water (a frosty minus 295.6 F), it fills lakes on the surface of this frigid moon, saturates clouds in the atmosphere, and falls again as rain. This thick atmosphere, in which organic molecules float around freely, could potentially be ripe for life—or brimming with it already.
Nitrogen Ice Clouds
Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, is the coldest place in our solar system. It has an average temperature of minus 315 F. This image, taken by Voyager 2 in August 1989, shows the large, pinkish south polar cap, which may consist of a slowly evaporating layer of nitrogen ice. The nitrogen then forms clouds a few kilometers above the surface.
Triton has a weird, backward orbit and has been inching closer to Neptune each year. When the two finally collide, in about 10 million to 100 million years, the moon will be shredded into rings perhaps as beautiful as those of Saturn.
This storm, eight times the surface area of Earth, has been raging since December 2010 on Saturn. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took this photo during a turbulent spring in northern Saturn. At its most intense, the storm generated more than 10 lightning flashes per second.
“Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently.”
Attribution: Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D