NASA recently released a new image of Saturn that can only be described as breathtaking. The image was captured by the Cassini spacecraft and features a view of Saturn's dark side with its rings and upper atmosphere being backit by the suns light.
NASA positioned Cassini into Saturn's shadow on October 17th in order to capture the high solar phase, giving astronomers a look at the rings and atmosphere that otherwise would not have been seen.
NASA attempted a similar shot back in 2006 by stitching together over 160 photos taken over a period of three hours. This time however, Cassini was positioned in a much closer orbit which resulted in a much more detailed mosaic that only used about 1/3 the number of photos. Those seeking a high resolution image can find it avaliable for download on NASA.gov
As a tradition, Observatories around the globe routinely release holiday themed astro-photos. This year the Hubble Space Telescope has released a breath taking image of NGC 5189, a planetary nebula in the constellation Musca.
The image captured by Hubble, resembles a ribbon and glass bauble such as one might find hanging on a Christmas tree. The circular shape in the center of the nebula can be seen as an ornament made of blown glass, and the reddish knotted structure that flows around the middle looks like a tangled ribbon that holds the ornament in place.
A planetary nebula is one of the last stages in the life of a mid-size star like our sun. The dying star sloughs off its outer layers and shoots them out into the universe, resulting in the "ribbon-like" filaments surrounding the middle of the star. At the center of the nebula is a densely packed white dwarf star whose mass is stuffed into a volume about the size of Earth, but the entire planetary nebula is the size of our solar system.
There may not be another Terminator movie on the horizon, but defence research outfit DARPA, have just shown off their latest improvements to their four-legged LS3 robot. The tests involved two weeks of real-world testing in the woods of central Virginia.
The LS3 robot, also known as AlphaDog, showed off a bunch of improvements in its autonomy and manoeuvrability, and even when it fell over and rolled - it recovered nicely. LS3 is also capable of responding to voice commands, and while the LS3 is not as good as Siri or Google Search, it still is capable of some cool tricks such as "Leader Follow" decision making, where the robot itself will determine the best way to follow its human counterpart.
All we need now is to see Arnold Schwarzenegger walking around with an LS3 and people would be getting scared pretty quickly.
SpaceTT: North Korean satellite most likely dead and tumbling through space, according to astronomers
I'm sure most of you heard about that satellite that was launched into space by North Korea. Most of the developed world is upset at the country for this missile launch as many believe it was actually a test of a ballistic missile and not just to put a satellite in space. However, it looks like that satellite may now be broken.
"It's tumbling and we haven't picked up any transmissions," said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks global rocket launchings and space activity. "Those two things are most consistent with the satellite being entirely inactive at this point."
The reason for failure isn't immediately clear, though it appears as though the onboard systems have failed. "It's clear that the rocket part of this mission worked very well for the North Koreans," Dr. McDowell said in an interview. "They ended up in the right orbit. But the preponderance of the evidence suggests that the satellite failed either during the ascent or shortly afterwards."
The satellite should not fall to Earth or cause any massive havoc, according to scientists. The satellite was said to be carrying a camera to observe Earth, which requires the satellite to be rock-steady, something it clearly isn't.
Need to sleep? NASA's new lights could be just the thing. Invented to combat insomnia in space, the new lights will be used on the International Space Station. NASA calls the new lighting apparatus a "solid-state lighting module" and plans to use them in 2016 to combat the fatigue generated from sleepless nights.
The problem in space is that there isn't a normal progression of light changes like on Earth. As the day progresses, the light changes color and intensity, which leads to humans' 24-hour day/night cycle. This transition prompts the brain to produce chemicals designed to put us to sleep.
The light uses red, blue, and white LEDs to mimic the light changes on Earth. Not only will this new lighting system work great in space, where nearly half of all medication used is to help people sleep, it can also be applied to users on the ground to help make them alert or sleepy. The project cost $11.2 million, for those that were wondering.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the people behind the $35 Raspberry Pi have launched an "App Store" aimed at making it easier for developers of all ages to share their games, applications, tools and tutorials with other Raspberry Pi users.
The "App Store" went live earlier this morning, 6 months after being announced by Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton back in July. The foundation is hoping that the new App Store will become a onestop shop for all your Raspberry Pi development, productivity and entertainment needs.
On the Raspberry Pi blog the foundation writes: "We hope that the Pi Store will provide young people with a way to share their creations with a wider audience, and maybe to a make a little pocket money along the way; as well as offering commercial developers an easy way to get their software seen by the Raspberry Pi community,"
Convinced that the world will end on December 21 2012? Well thanks to the folks running the Slooh Space Camera, you can watch it all unfold online!
The online Slooh Space Camera will broadcase a series of live cosmic shots all week starting today. The webcast which are free will aid in helping us keep track of any monster solar storms, impending asteroid strikes or other potential agents of the so-called "Mayan apocalypse" that doomsayers claim is set for Friday.
"By acting independently of any government agency, which assumedly would be disbelieved by the millions who are convinced a giant cover-up is in place, Slooh will observe the planets and the ecliptic plane for anything out of the ordinary," Said Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman.
NASA's next step into the dark beyond is with their Orion capsule, which is looking to enter its first test flight in 2014. NASA's Apollo missions are behind them, so the space agency are looking into the future with their Orion spacecraft and Delta IV rockets to send man into space.
Part of the process is to make sure that the Orion capsule will survive the extreme temperatures of re-entry, and even though Orion is one of the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, testing is still necessary.
The Apollo missions most important part of surviving re-entry is thanks to its heat shield which protects the ship during re-entry. The Orion capsule takes it a step further where it's composed of two parts: a Titanium skeleton that is bolted to a carbon fiber skin. This takes nearly 3,000 bolts to hold the skeleton to the skin, after this the heat shield is shipped to Textron Defense Systems just outside of Boston, where they'll add the final layer of albative material.
NASA apparently doesn't believe in the Mayan prophesy that the world will cease to exist on December 21, 2012. They don't believe in it so much that they have actually taken time out of their busy schedule to produce a video to explain to you and me why the world will not actually be ending as predicted.
The video is titled "Why the World Didn't End Yesterday" and was set to be released on December 22, but NASA has decided to release it early, maybe as a sign they aren't so confident that they will be around on the following day to release it. The video goes over many reasons that the world won't be ending as "predicted."
However, it's likely that this still won't dispel most conspiracy theorists' theories on how the world is going to end. After all, the Mayans had access to much better technology than we do today, and would be able to predict our demise just about as well as they did theirs. Do you believe the world is ending on December 21, 2012? How will it happen?
40 years ago today, the last men to walk on the surface of the moon blasted off and headed for home. Apollo 17 was the last of the Apollo missions to the moon, a feat we have not ventured to repeat since.
After three days exploring the Taurus-Littrow lunar valley, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan (pictured above) and Harrison Schmitt lit the engine on the upper (ascent) stage of their lunar module "Challenger" and launched off the surface at 5:55 p.m. EST (2255 GMT) on Dec. 14, 1972. The word "Ignition" which was voiced by Schmitt was the last words ever spoken by man on the surface of the moon.
Schmidt was also the first geologist and professional scientist to fly on an manned NASA mission. Eugene Cernan, commander of the mission was the last human to leave a footprint on the surface and with his words "Lets get off" an era came to an end.
Raspberry Pi, an ARM based micro computer that runs Linux, has seen a huge surge in its user base since its release. The reason for this is no doubt its price point of $35, which gets you a fully capable Linux machine with 512mb of memory, USB, Ethernet, and SD Storage. Well the Pi just got cheaper, with the model A costing a mere $25.
The Raspberry Pi model A is a slimmed down version of the model B. The model A features only 256mb of memory, and lacks an ethernet chip and jack. The Raspberry Pi Foundation did this because they know that not all projects will need the networking hardware and that by removing the Ethernet chip, they save 200mA of power consumption [video][/video]with the model A consuming just 100mA of power.
The model A has not yet been released for sales yet, but some boards did wind up in the hands of Limor Fried of Adafruit Industries as well as Pete Wood of Design Spark. Both of whom has released videos covering the new little ARM board.
Skywatchers across the globe are in for a major treat tonight as the Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight along with a new unnamed meteor shower. With the moon at its new phase tonight the skies will be as dark as possible for the breathtaking event which is expected to produce around 100 "shooting stars" an hour.
To view the event you simply need to lay on your back and watch the constellation of Gemini. The meteors will seem to magically appear from that constellation. The action will be taking place all night with things really heating up starting at 10:00 local time and going into full effect around 2am. "Meteors from the new shower (if any) will be visible in the early evening, with the Geminids making their appearance later on and lasting until dawn," Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a statement.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have cloudy skies tonight like me, NASA will host a live web chat overnight from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EST (0400 to 0800 GMT), complete with live video of streaking meteors captured by a special camera at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It will all happen here:
A couple of months ago, we reported that a team of physicists were going to see if The Matrix were more real than meets the eye - well, we've gotten a little further now and another team of physicists have found another way to experiment if we're all living within a computer.
There has been a philosophical thought experiment that has for quite some time shown that it is more likely that we're actually living in a machine - yes, that the real world is not so "real". This theory goes onto a path that any civilisation which would get as far as a 'post-human' stage would end up with the ability to run simulations on the scale of a universe. Considering the scale of what is out there, billions of stars, suns, worlds, and more - it is not only possible, but it is likely that it has already happened.
Then we tumble further down the rabbit hole, and it is statistically possible that we're (the human race, our universe) is within a chain of simulations within simulations. Inception springs to mind, so does The Matrix. The alternative to this is that we are the first civilisation, within the first universe - and this is virtually impossible.
Caltech engineers have developed a cheap X-ray technology that will allow it to see through solid materials. The engineers, Ali Hajimiri and Kaushik Sengupta, have tweaked silicon microchips to emit terahertz waves. These high power waves can go through solid materials and send back an image of what is inside.
The wave used by the engineers is also quite a bit safer than ionizing X-rays, and has actually been used for a while now. Current systems, however, are bulky and costly. This new chip uses a microchip like you would already find in your phone, making it cheap and compact and able to be put into a mobile device.
"We are not just talking about a potential," Hajimiri said. "We have actually demonstrated that this works. The first time we saw the actual images, it took our breath away."
Think about the potential. You twist your ankle and think it's broken. Now you can do a quick check to see if it is. If you're not sure, you could send the image off to your doctor who could respond via text whether you need to come in or not. This, along with many other uses, make this an awesome advancement of technology.
It looks like the US skies are about to get a little scarier, with next-generation military drones being unveiled by a top US manufacturer. These new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will sport an ultra-light laser, which is capable of reportedly destroying an object at the speed of light - yikes.
Someone close to the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) told Time magazine "it would give us an unlimited magazine".
The Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), over the last four years, have handed contractor General Atomics over $60 million to develop, and then scale the HELLADS project, which contains a very powerful 150kW laser. Lasers available at that strength contain the power to destroy an incoming rocket or plane, but are very big and heavy - meaning they're only capable of being deployed on stationary defense systems.
SpaceX have become the light of space travel recently, with NASA's budget planned to be slashed by now second-term President Obama. SpaceX is a private company who can now run rings around NASA.
The company have been awarded two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions from the United States Air Force and Missile Systems Center.
These two missions are the DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) and STP-2 (Space Test Program 2). The two missions will take place in 2014 and 2015 and will be launched on SpaceX's Falcon vehicles.
NASA, in conjunction with the US Air Force Research Labs, has developed a new flight simulator that is much better than the previous iterations used by the Air Force and NASA for training. Most flight simulators offered up a 20/40 vision, which is worse than the standard 20/20 vision, or the 20/13 that pilots usually have.
This makes training a bit difficult because images displayed in the flight simulator are blurry. The latest simulator developed by NASA and the US Air Force Research Labs displays images in 20/10 vision, so those with good sight will not see blurry images for up to twice as far away as most people.
The new flight simulator makes use of nine 4K projectors that are driven by numerous NVIDIA Quadro GPUs and Quadro Sync cards. Of course, they have massive amounts of frame buffers because the flight simulator pushes out 60 frames per second. NASA has been able to reduce the number of computers required from 36 to just five.
If you thought NASA's Curiosity rover was already cool, checking in on Foursquare on Mars and all, well, they're looking to launch another rover in 2010. NASA have announced the news at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, but haven't provided many more details unfortunately.
NASA's Management Astronaut and the Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters (imagine that on your resume), John Mace Grunsfield, did tease the world by saying that the next-generation rover would be "based on Curiosity". The current budget for the currently-dubbed "Science Rover" will hover at around $1.5 billion, with no funding coming in from other departments.
It looks as though some UK researchers are about to get a taste of the real The Thing with their latest adventures in one of the harshest environments on the Earth.
The mission leads them to Lake Ellsworth in the Antarctic in the search for life with Lake Ellsworth being 3km (2 miles) below the glacier. The team will have to drill through the ice before December 12 using a high pressure sterile water jet that needs to be heated to 90 degrees Celcius (194 Fahrenheit) and sterilize the patch of lake with intense ultraviolet light before they even attempt to retrieve a sample.
This is all in the mission to find life - and if they do find organisms, it'll be quite the discovery as they've been completely isolated from the outside world for at least 100,000 years according to the team, and most likely - a lot longer. This adventure could help scientists better understand how life evolves on Earth, and even off-planet.
NASA details findings in new post, found organic compounds on Mars, but no 'definitive evidence' of life, yet
Our little Curiosity rover is all grown up now. Sitting on the surface of Mars, it has gone to work analyzing soil samples collected from a drift known as Rocknest. The sampling at this location served two purposes. One, it tested the equipment and provided data. Two, the fine sand particles were used to scrub the equipment of any lingering substances that came with the rover from Earth.
"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
"We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission's main science destination on Mount Sharp."
While not fully detecting organic compounds from life, the tool set did detect "the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate." This chemical, combined with with others, was heated in SAM and formed chlorinated methane compounds. So, while there does appear to be organic materials on Mars, it's not definitive evidence of life.
Check out the source link, direct from NASA, for more information.
Curiosity is awesome from many different standpoints. It's one hell of a robot, a feat of engineering, and a great way to increase our knowledge about Mars and space in general. Rumors of a massive discovery, according to NASA and Curiosity's Twitter account, have been a bit overblown, but never-the-less, NASA will be presenting its findings so far tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. EST, 9:00 a.m. PT.
The press conference will be held during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place in San Francisco. NASA has been trying to dial-in expectations and has said that there won't be any unbelievable findings presented tomorrow. "Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect," officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote. "The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil."
The rumors of a massive discovery started making their rounds two weeks ago when an NPR story used a quote from John Grotzinger, mission chief scientist, that said the SAM tool had found data "for the history books." If an earth-shattering discovery is presented tomorrow, you'll be able to read about it here.