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Our final science Friday post for this week is a story about rebirth, about breathing new life into a hibernating spacecraft to help hunt for near Earth asteroids. Today, NASA announced that it would be bringing the WISE Space Telescope back online and tasking it with an entirely new mission.
Before being mothballed for 2.5 years, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer Telescope, aka WISE, spent 13 months composing a map of the entire sky that highlighted comets, asteroids, stars, and other objects that emit infrared light. As an additional feature to the survey, WISE also hunted asteroids that could pass relatively close to Earth at some point in the future.
Today's announcement states that NASA will bring WISE out of mothballs for a three-year mission, during which it will hunt for asteroids that may be on a collision course with the earth. Additionally, NASA is hoping to find a few non-threatening asteroids that would allow the space agency to use them as targets for a robotic mission that would relocate an asteroid into a safe and stable orbit around the moon.
It's that time again: it's Friday and that means more Science Friday news posts here at TweakTown! Today, a new report straight from NASA says the sun fired off an intense solar storm in the form of a Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME, that was aimed directly at the Earth early Wednesday morning.
The event took place around 1:24 AM EDT and sent billions of tons of charged particles steaming full speed ahead straight at Earth at a rate of 380 miles per second, or 1.3 million miles per hour. The storm is expected to reach the Earth on Saturday, however, do not let that scare you as our atmosphere will effectively block all of the harmful radiation that is headed our way. Those in the extreme north and south of both hemispheres can expect to see some awesome aurora over the next few days.
A statement from NASA confirmed that no one need to fear as this sort of event happens all the time. "These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground," NASA officials explained in a statement. Head over to Source #2 to see an animated GIF of Wednesdays CME taking place.
What a treat! I get to write two SpaceTT posts in one day! Stargazers across the northern hemisphere are witnessing a rare occurrence happening right before our eyes. A nova in the constellation Delphinus has brightened over the last couple of days to a magnitude 5.0 and has allowed naked eye viewing of the astronomical phenomenon.
In the upper left-hand corner of the image above, you can see Nova Del 2013 appearing as a large star shining brightly in a sea of fainter stars. What you are actually witnessing is a binary star system in which the larger star is having its hydrogen stripped off by the much smaller white dwarf star. As is fresh layer of hydrogen grows thicker and more dense, the lower layers erupt in a runaway hydrogen-fusion reaction. As the reaction takes place, the star grows much hotter and brightens in the night sky.
To get an idea of how large this explosion is, one can simply imagine what a hydrogen bomb the size of the Earth would look like. The nova was discovered on August 14 by astronomer Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan, around 2PM EDT. It was originally listed as a magnitude 17 in brightness, and has since grown 100,000 times in brightness. The event will most likely only last for a few more days, so if you have clear, dark skies, you might just be able to see it with your naked eye. Tossing in visual aid from binoculars or a telescope will greaten one's chance at observing the nova.
Some of you might remember a post that I did a little over a week ago about the Perseid meteor shower. If you did not have a chance to view it with your own eyes, you truly missed out on something special. Luckily, it happens every year and you can plan to check it out next year. In any event, reliving such a wonderful astronomical event is always fun and Vimeo user Kai Gradert has uploaded a time lapse video of the event from the nights of August 10 and 11.
The video was shot during a photography workshop that was held in the Joshua Tree National Park. Gradert captured the footage with a Canon 6D using 14mm and 16mm wide angle lenses on a Kessler CineSlider mount. The stunning footage of the Milky Way, along with the incoming meteors and a few planes and satellites coming from the opposite direction, make this one of the best Perseid meteor shower videos I have seen to date.
News came in overnight that NASA has decided to call off all efforts dedicated to repairing its crippled Kepler Space Telescope. The 0.95-meter space telescope was launched four years ago with the task of discovering Earth-size planets orbiting nearby stars. The mission has widely been considered a success with hundreds of new planets now catalogued.
A few months back, the telescope's gyroscopic reaction wheels began failing, and this makes precisely aligning the telescope for stable long exposure shots impossible. Kepler resides in such a high orbit that even if we had a servicing robot or still flew space shuttles, we would simply not be able to reach it and as such, NASA has decided to end all efforts attempting to revive the telescope.
With Kepler gone and the Hubble space telescope quickly nearing its end of life, our only hope for outer space imaging sources now relies on the constantly threatened James Web Space Telescope. Unfortunately, it appears that every time our lawmakers start talking budgets, the James Webb is always the first to take the hit. I don't normally do this sort of thing, but if you like the images that the Hubble provides, and think hunting for new earth-like planets is a good thing, then please contact your local congressman and let them know that the James Webb space telescope is a good thing.
It has been 35 years since NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft blasted off from terra firma and headed into the final frontier. During this journey, the space probe has visited Saturn, Jupiter, and has even managed to leave our solar system. Well maybe it has left, or maybe it is still here. Not even NASA is sure whether or not Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space.
If you're a space buff like me, I know what you're thinking, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced last year that Voyager 1 has in fact left our solar system and is now streaking through interstellar space. Unfortunately, the original Voyager science team seems to think otherwise.
To toss even more confusion into the mix, both the University of Maryland as well as Boston University both agree that Voyager 1 actually reached interstellar space on July 27, 2012, and for the moment, NASA has agreed to simply disagree and released a statement saying that they simply have no idea where Voyager 1 actually it.
A newly released video from NASA is showing us how astronauts will soon be able to create replacement parts for the space station using a 3-D printer while in orbit. The video elaborates on why 3-D printing in space is an important achievement and how it can be used to lessen the cost of space exploration.
The prototype printer shown in the video appears to be of the normal added-deposition style much like consumer level, hobbyist grade printers we have here on earth. The hot end appears to be of similar design to that used on many of the RepRap derivatives such as the Lulzbot, Mendel, and Prusa 3-D printers. A spokeswoman for NASA says that the first 3-D printer to travel to space is scheduled to launch in June 2014 aboard the SpaceX 5 ISS resupply mission.
August holds a special event for stargazers across the nation in the form of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. This astronomical event occurs on an annual basis and produces more fireballs and "shooting stars" than any other meteor shower. During its peak, stargazers could see more than 100 meteors per hour with some streaking across the sky as bright fireballs.
"We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said in a statement. "It's the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12 and 13."
Cook and a team of scientists from NASA have placed meteor observing cameras across the southern United States in an effort to count the amount of fireballs produced during the Perseid event and between 2008 and 2013, the project logged 568 fireballs. This is significantly more than next largest meteor shower event, The Geminids.
The world's smallest re-creation of the Mona Lisa has been painted on a surface that is just 30 microns in width, which is roughly one-third as wide as a human hair. This tiny feat was accomplished by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and used a process known as ThermoChemical NanoLithography, which is similar to the process used to etch the circuitry on the silicon used in microprocessors.
The process uses a precise application of heat in a painstaking process that "paints" the image pixel by pixel. Varying the amount of heat allows for changes in in the darkness of the gray used to illustrate the image. For example, the more heat used in a single pixel, the darker that pixel will be. Likewise, less heat produces a lighter pixel.
"By tuning the temperature, our team manipulated chemical reactions to yield variations in the molecular concentrations on the nanoscale. We've created a way to make independent patterns of multiple chemicals on a chip that can be drawn in whatever shape you want," Jennifer Curtis, an associate professor in the School of Physics and the study's lead author, said in a statement.
Oculus Rift, apart from being awesome, is being used everywhere, but one of the best uses for it so far has to be NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's super immersive space exploration, which lets you walk the surface of Mars.
The NASA JPL team were pumped for Rift when they first used it at PAX last year, signing up for a developer kit right away. Engadget interviewed Human Interfaces Engineer, Victor Luo, who said they added terrain imagery that was snapped from satellites so that they could actually "walk" on the red planet using an Xbox controller "with up to 25 centimeters per pixel."
Luo thought it would be great to actually physically 'walk' on Mars, so they contacted Virtuix Omni to get one of their treadmills. The Virtuix team were near the JPL labs when E3 2013 was cranking along, and hand delivered an Omni to the excited people at NASA's JPL laboratories. The team hooked the unit up and were able to "wander around" the surface of Mars. Incredible.