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SpaceX are making leaps and bounds with their technology, with their Grasshopper rocket taking off and tripling its previous altitude mark of 263 feet by jetting up to 840 feet.
Once it reached that height, it hovered for little while, then gently touched down on the spot it launched from. Impressive, you'd hate to be the one coding everything inside of that thing - the amount of precision to sit there and hover without spinning out of control must have caused quite a bunch of grey hairs for the SpaceX team. Impressive stuff!
This afternoon Mars One officially announced the opening of its search and application process for the first manned mission to the planet Mars. Mars One is looking for two men and two women from different nationalities to man a one-way trip to Mars in 2023.
The trip to Mars is not for the light hearted, or those who are not willing to give up everything they have known. "While it is possible that, within the lifetime of the early settlers on Mars, there will be opportunity to bring one or more back to Earth, it cannot be anticipated nor expected", reads part of the mission briefing on the Mars-One.com website.
While I fully support this endeavor, and am immensely excited about humans leaving the planet Earth and populating another world, I still feel that a colonization mission is nothing more than suicide and will remain so until we develop a form of terraforming that would render the Martian atmosphere more hospitable for human life. I think a more technology appropriate approach would be for an orbital mission where we send explorers on a mission to orbit the planet before returning home.
SpaceTT: Hubble Telescope takes a new look at the Horse Head Nebula, resulting image will blow your mind
This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Telescope taking flight in orbit around the earth. To celebrate the occasion it revisited one of my favorite monuments in the night sky; the Horse Head Nebula (IC 434).
Located within the Orion Nebula (M42), the Horsehead is a massive star forming region which is comprised of dust and gas. The Hubble first imaged the Horse Head about 20 years ago and the resulting visible light image can be seen above. The red or pinkish glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left.
The new image of the great Horse Head can be seen above. It shows the region in infrared light, which is made up of longer wavelengths than visible light and can see through the dusty cloud that usually obscures the nebula's inner regions. The result is a rather amazing, and stunning looking structure, made of delicate folds of gas.
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.