Google+

Strangest Planets

There's an entire universe of weird and wonderful exoplanets out there, and New Atlas is rounding ...
There’s an entire universe of weird and wonderful exoplanets out there, and New Atlas is rounding up some of the most bizarre (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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. read more

Is the Universe All There?

New computer simulations have questioned the existence of dark energy, a so-far theoretical force that is ...
New computer simulations have questioned the existence of dark energy, a so-far theoretical force that is said to be driving the expansion of the universe (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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. read more

NASA Reveals New Mars Rocket

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.Nasa's vast SLS rocket, which will launch payloads of upto 130 tonnes into orbit and could make its first flight in 2017.

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. read more

Black Hole Discovered

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.

Scroll down for  video…

Black hole
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. The 4U1630-47 star system is depicted above in an artist’s  illustration, with a large blue star on the right and jets emanating from a  black hole in the center of the disc on the left read more

Space Balloon

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.

Scroll down  for video…

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
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  (pictured)

 

During the flight passengers will be able to stand up and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Earth, while also being served a meal
During the flight passengers will be able to stand up in  their pod (pictured) and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Earth, while also  being served a meal

 

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.’

   The passenger pod is carried into near-space by a high tech balloon and then separates after cruising above the earth for two hours
The passenger pod is carried into near-space by a high  tech balloon and then separates after cruising above the earth for two hours. It  is carried back to Earth by a para-foil when passengers will briefly experience  zero gravity

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.’

The pod is large enough to carry six passengers - four space tourists and two pilots
The pod is large enough to carry six passengers – four  space tourists and two pilots. The company’s ‘Bloons’ are usually used to  conduct science experiments in near space

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
A Bloon and pod starts its journey into near-space
The balloon and pod fly for around two hours at a height that is twice that of Concorde's cruising altitude
A Bloon begins its ascent from the Earth’s surface  (above) to an altitude of 36 kilometers.  They then fly for around  two hours at a  height that is twice that of Concorde’s cruising  altitude

 

An artist's impression of passengers inside a pod on their journey to near-space
An artist's impression of passengers inside a pod on their journey to near-space
An artist’s impression of passengers inside a pod on  their journey to near-space

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

Big Dipper Changing

The Universe is Alive

Image credit: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team and The High-Z Supernova Search Team.

Image credit: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team and The High-Z Supernova Search Team.
This image obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 4526 and its supernova 1994D (lower left).

“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: Wally Pacholka of http://www.astropics.com/.

Image credit: Wally Pacholka of http://www.astropics.com/.The unchanging nature of the points of light in the sky?Image credit: Roth Ritter (Dark Atmospheres), of the double cluster in Perseus.
Image credit: Roth Ritter (Dark Atmospheres), of the double cluster in Perseus.Maybe you think deeper and farther than that. Maybe you think about the distant galaxies and clusters, and the deepest deep-sky objects we know of. How the light took millions or even billions of years to reach us, and yet how every time we look at them, we see them exactly the same way.Image credit: Misti Mountain Observatory.
Image credit: Misti Mountain Observatory.I couldn’t fault you for thinking like this; from mankind’s point of view, the Universe — for all intents and purposes — doesn’t change at all as we view it from one night to the next.But does that really mean the Universe isn’t changing?Let me flip this around on you: how much does anything here on Earth — you, your surroundings, even an entire, vibrant city — change in half-a-millisecond?

Image credit: DC User Forum, of a short-exposure shot with a Sony A900 DSLR.

Image credit: DC User Forum, of a short-exposure shot with a Sony A900 DSLR.Not a whole lot, that’s for certain. You only change with the passage of time, and half-a-millisecond is just 0.00000000002% of a typical human lifetime. It’s too short of a timespan to notice any but the most catastrophic changes, and even then you have to look very closely.So why should you expect the Universe to change substantially over just 0.00000000002% of its lifetime? That’s how much of the Universe’s lifetime passes between one night on Earth and the next. And yet, if you looked at the right objects, you would be able to see meaningful changes from one night to the next.Image credit: Tunc Tezel.

Image credit: Tunc Tezel.The objects within our Solar System, for example, are close enough that we can see them moving from night-to-night. Objects closer to us — like Mars, in the foreground — appear to move more substantially than more distant objects like Uranus, visible in the background.The great cause of all this motion, of course, is our largest nearby clump of matter: the Sun. Objects like planets move at tens of kilometers-per-second relative to the Sun thanks to its gravity, while Sun-grazing comets can be accelerated up to speeds in the hundreds of kilometers-per-second. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, you may be able to get a good view of one now: Comet Lemmon.Image credit: Rolf Wahl Olsen from Auckland, New Zealand.

Image credit: Rolf Wahl Olsen from Auckland, New Zealand.Green because of the carbon and nitrogen interacting with sunlight, this photo does an excellent job of tracking the stars from the Earth along with the Earth’s rotation. What you probably can’t tell is that the comet — with a photo exposure time of over an hour — is blurred.If instead of tracking the stars perfectly, we tracked the comet perfectly, know what we’d see?Image credit: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory).

Image credit: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)That comet is moving relative to the stars behind it, and our ultra-close proximity to the comet makes it abundantly clear.But what you may not realize is that these “fixed” stars are also moving at tens-to-hundreds of kilometers-per-second relative to us, and relative to one another! It’s only the vast distances between us — measured in many light-years — that make it impossible to detect these changes from night-to-night.But we can’t really detect changes in ourselves from millisecond-to-millisecond; you simply need to look on longer timescales!

Image credit: Martha Haynes of Cornell University.

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!

Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team and CTIO.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team and CTIO.There are new stars being born — where nuclear fusion ignites for the first time — and stars that run out of fuel, dying in either a planetary nebula or a supernova explosion, depending on the properties of the star.Image credit: http://astrojan.ini.hu/, retrieved from Margaret Hanson, U. of Cincinnati.
Image credit: http://astrojan.ini.hu/, retrieved from Margaret Hanson, U. of Cincinnati.And on the largest scales, galaxies merge together, triggering star formation and some fabulous cosmic mashups, in processes taking upwards of hundreds-of-millions of years.Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, STScI and ESA.
Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, STScI and ESA.And in some of the fastest and most spectacular changes, catastrophic stellar events — like supernovae — can literally appear from nothing over the timescale of just a few nights!Image credit: Peter Nugent/Palomar Transient Factory.
Image credit: Peter Nugent/Palomar Transient Factory.When you look up at the Universe, it may appear static and unchanging, but that’s only because these objects are so far away and our human experiences are so short in comparison with the age of the Universe.But stick around for a while, and even the most mundane of objects will change for you. Fuel burns, elements fuse, gravity pulls, and physics happens. Just give it time, and you’ll see it for yourself.We may only be around for a snapshot of it, but make no mistake, it’s never the same from moment-to-moment. From the way I look at it, there isn’t any doubt about it: the Universe is alive.

Attribution: Ethan Siegel

Space Station Blows Up

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.

This artist's impressions shows the Bigelow inflatable space station that can be compressed into a 7-foot tube for delivery to the International Space Station. NASA is expected to install the module by 2015This artist’s impressions shows the Bigelow inflatable  space station that can be compressed into a 7-foot tube for delivery to the  International Space Station. NASA is expected to install the module by 2015

 

Bigelow Aerospace president Robert Bigelow, left, and NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver with a one third scale model of the inflatable room 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 StationAn 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.

Attribution: Lewis Smith and Mark Prigg

Think We Have Bad Weather?

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.

bizarre_jupiter-great-red-spot_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

bizarre_littleredspot2_hst_f_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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

mars_dryice_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

Sulfuric-Acid Rain

venus_magellan_1280_1024_JPG_CROP_article920-large_magellan_1280_1024

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

venus_clouds_mariner10_lrg_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

neptune_1_large_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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

mars-sand-storm_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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

mars_dust_devil_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

Methane Rainstorms

titan_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

Triton1_full_JPG_CROP_article920-large

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.

Hydrogen Storms

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.

saturn_JPG_CROP_article920-large

“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: