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NASA has used their Kepler telescope to discover three "super-Earth-size" exoplanets that are close enough to their star to possibly have water on them. Two of the planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, orbit a K2 dwarf estimated to be around 7 billion years old.
This star measures in at around two-thirds the size of our sun, and is orbited by a total of five planets, three of which are too close to be habitable for life to form. Kepler-69c, the biggest of the three new planets discovered, is estimated to be around 70% larger than Earth, and takes 242 days to circle its star. This isn't the biggest news NASA has had, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Recent research at the University of Illinois has led to a breakthrough in lithium-ion battery technology. Researchers have developed a lithium-ion micro-battery that leaves all of its competition in the dust in both size and recharge rate.
A team headed up by professor William P. King has devised a new fast-charging cathode using 3D micro-structure, which resulted in an anode of similar design. When paired up, the result is a unit that is being touted as the most powerful battery in the world.
The new Li-ion micro-battery bucks current trends and avoids the usual tradeoff between longevity and power and has a footprint of just a couple of millimeters. This will ultimately lead to batteries for mobile devices that are 30 percent smaller, could broadcast radio signals 30 percent farther and could recharge in minutes compared to hours.
Maker Ruben van der Vleuten has just published a very cool video showing a recent experiment he conducted on the process of a package being shipped from point A to point B. I am still unsure of the legality of this type of thing here in the US, so beware if you attempt this yourself.
Ruben did not document the electronics very well, but from what I can tell, he used an Arduino to build an intervalometer, that would trigger the camera to take a photo at regular intervals. If the package stopped moving for a period of time, the Arduino would only trigger the camera for three seconds every minute to prevent an excess of dark / duplicate frames.
Finally, Ruben very cleverly hid it all inside a very inconspicuous brown box. He tackled the task of hiding the camera by drilling a hole smaller than the size of a pea into the side and masked it by writing his name in black permanent marker around it. This camouflaged the dark hole leading to the camera lens. As an avid Maker myself, I tip my hat to Ruben for a simple, yet awesome project.
The Navy has successfully completed a test of its upcoming laser weapon system that is set to debut in 2014. The laser system successfully shot down a drone. We have embedded video of the test below for your viewing pleasure:
Previous experiences with laser technology haven't been so successful. Part of the issue is that high-power lasers are large, require massive amounts energy, and large amounts of cooling. There have been some experimental laser weapon systems mounted in airplanes and on ships.
All I can think about is how cool lasers are. Pew, pew! Pew, pew!
It looks like NASA might just get that $100 million grant to find an asteroid, bring it back to the Moon, and study it. The $100 million initial fund would be used to find the right asteroid to retrieve.
The good news comes from the Christian Science Monitor, who says that President Obama is putting aside $100 million in a 2014 budget for the project. This isn't written in ink just yet, but it is exciting. The full project will cost much more, somewhere around $2.6 billion - a huge twenty-six times as much as the initial $100 million grant.
The International Space Station (ISS) may have detected the elusive so-called dark matter, which is believed to be the glue that holds the universe together. The discovery comes from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on-board the ISS, which has detected about 400,000 positrons.
Positrons are the antimatter partner particle of electrons. Positrons have been detected before, but these are a little different in composition. They have an energy signature that suggest they might have been formed when particles of dark matter collided with other particles of dark matter.
In other space news, Saturn has once again returned to the northern hemispheres nighttime skies. Saturn has always been my favorite object to view, not just because of its beauty, but because it's easy to find and view with minimal equipment. A decent set of binoculars as well as cheap department store telescopes can all resolve Saturn and its rings and you might even be able to notice some color in the rings if the skies are clear enough.
NASA has said that they will not be sending any commands to the Curiosity rover for the next four weeks due to the alignment of Mars, the sun, and Earth. Their fear is that the sun could corrupt commands sent to Curiosity and result in unexpected behavior or damage system components.
The [communications] moratorium is a precaution against possible interference by the sun corrupting a command sent to the rover.
Curiosity will be operating in an autonomous mode, running off of commands sent up before the moratorium went into place. After May 1, Curiosity will be able to send back the results of its testing. NASA won't be completely out of touch with the rover as it will still be sending information back to let researchers know its still alive.
We will maintain visibility of rover status two ways. First, Curiosity will be sending daily beeps directly to Earth. Our second line of visibility is in the Odyssey relays.
You can expect to not receive any Curiosity updates during the next four weeks. After that, the team plans to conduct another drilling to confirm and extend what was learned from a drilling that took place in February.
It's been a long and drawn out wait for the Raspberry Pi Model A to be released, but it is finally here and on sale in the US for a mere $25. Surprisingly the Model A is not being launched at Element14 as everyone might think.
Allied Electronics, a Texas based component supplier appears to be the first to market with the new $25 credit card sized Linux computer. The Model A is a dumbed down version of the vastly popular Raspberry Pi model B and differs in just a few missing components such as the LAN interface.
Unfortunately it appears that Allied has already sold out of the Model A's which leads us to wonder, why do these component houses not order several tens of thousands of units. They always blame supply, but Arduino was able to overcome supply shortages faster than Raspberry Pi has seemed to. If you know your product is going to sell in the hundreds of thousands almost overnight, why not scale up production to meet that demand?
NASA requests $100 million, wants to find an asteroid in space, drag it toward the Moon and send astronauts to study it
NASA has an interesting plan that would see them find an asteroid in space, drag it toward the Moon and send astronauts to study it. NASA are requesting $100 million for the mission, which is coming in the middle of their fight over the 2014 budget continues in Washington.
The idea comes from the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology back in 2011. Scientists have said that the plan is capable of being played out within the next decade, and would be a very good move for future endeavours by US engineers to plunder asteroids with robotic mining for water and metals. NASA has requested $100 million, with Keck researchers admitting that the actual operation would cost as much as $2.6 billion and it would take at least six years to grab an asteroid close to Earth.
The researchers have said that there could be as many as 20,000 pieces of space debris within a decent distance from the Earth, but it could take astronauts up to six months to travel to the asteroid in order to pull it back toward the Moon.
NASA have said that if politicians don't get in their way, a major announcement for this plan could be in their future.
NASA has released a new study done on the findings of its Cassini spacecraft that is orbiting Saturn. The findings suggest that the planet's mesmerizing rings and beautiful planets are ruminants of the early formation of our solar system.
Since the findings indicate that the rings and moon formed at the same time our solar system was forming, they are four billion year old time capsules that can help scientists understand more about the planetary nebula of gas and dust in which our solar system formed from.
"Studying the Saturnian system helps us understand the chemical and physical evolution of our entire solar system," Cassini scientist Gianrico Filacchione, of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, said in a statement. "We know now that understanding this evolution requires not just studying a single moon or ring, but piecing together the relationships intertwining these bodies."