A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘nasa

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait shares images of Jupiter, imaged in infrared by ALMA.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at ocean upwelling on one class of super-habitable exoplanet.
  • D-Brief looks at how the Komodo dragon survived the threat of extinction.
  • Far Outliers reports on a mid-19th century slave raid in the Sahel.
  • Gizmodo notes that the secret US Air Force spaceplane, the X-37B, has spent two years in orbit. (Doing what?)
  • JSTOR Daily looks at the economic underpinnings of medieval convents.
  • Dave Brockington writes at Lawyers, Guns and Money about the continuing meltdown of the British political system in the era of Brexit, perhaps even of British democracy.
  • The LRB Blog looks at the impact of Brexit on the Common Travel Area.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on how Poland has tried to deter emigration by removing income taxes on young workers.
  • Carole Naggar writes at the NYR Daily about the photography of women photographers working for LIFE, sharing examples of their work.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains why time has to be a dimension of the universe, alongside the three of space.
  • Frank Jacobs of Strange Maps shares NASA images of the forest fires of Amazonia.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that many Russophones of Ukraine are actually strongly opposed to Russia, contrary Russian stereotypes of language determining politics.

[NEWS] Five sci-tech links: NASA climate, Starlink, CO2 on the seabed, moving Earth, neutrino beams

  • Evan Gough at Universe Today notes that the long-term climate predictions of NASA have so far proven accurate to within tenths of a degree Celsius.
  • Matt Williams at Universe Today notes how the launching of satellites for the Starlink constellation, providing Internet access worldwide, could be a game-changer.
  • Eric Niiler at WIRED suggests that Texas–and other world regions–could easily sequester carbon dioxide in the seabed, in the case of Texas using the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Matteo Ceriotti explains at The Conversation how, as in The Wandering Earth, the Earth might be physically moved. https://theconversation.com/wandering-earth-rocket-scientist-explains-how-we-could-move-our-planet-116365ti

  • Matt Williams at Universe Today shares a remarkable proposal, suggesting Type II civilizations might use dense bodies like black holes to create neutrino beam beacons.

[LINK] “A Mission to a Metal World: The Psyche Mission”

Universe Today’s report of a proposed NASA mission to metallic asteroid Psyche interests me. Interesting object, interesting mission.

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA’s Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers recently selected five semifinalists for additional research and development, one or two of which will be launching by the 2020s.

With an eye to Venus, near-Earth objects and asteroids, these missions are looking beyond Mars to address other questions about the history and formation of our Solar System. Among them is the proposed Psyche mission, a robotic spacecraft that will explore the metallic asteroid of the same name – 16 Psyche – in the hopes of shedding some light on the mysteries of planet formation.

Discovered by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17th, 1852 – and named after a Greek mythological figure – Psyche is one the ten most-massive asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. It is also the most massive M-type asteroid, a special class pertaining to asteroids composed primarily of nickel and iron.

For some time, scientists have speculated that this metallic asteroid is in fact the survivor of a protoplanet. In this scenario, a violent collision with a planetesimal stripped off Psyche’s outer, rocky layers, leaving behind only the dense, metallic interior. This theory is supported by estimates of Psyche’s bulk density, spectra, and radar surface properties; all of which show it to be an object unlike any others in the Belt.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 10, 2015 at 7:10 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO reports on 12 great regional Chinese restaurants in Toronto.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes eccentric hot Jupiter HD 17156b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the Ukrainian war.
  • Joe. My. God. notes Ben Carson’s claim that homosexuality brought down the Roman Empire.
  • Language Hat shares a language map of France circa 1847.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe shares maps of Ceres.
  • Marginal Revolution makes judgments about Uber.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Casey Dreier reports on five NASA proposals for space probes.
  • Peter Rukavina reports on a nice quilt show in Charlottetown.
  • Spacing Toronto considers the potential of parks to build communities.
  • Window on Eurasia notes pressure on Russia to take in Circassian refugees and considers the costs of Crimea.

[LINK] “NASA Struggles over Deep-Space Plutonium Power”

Scientific American‘s Lee Billings describes NASA’s impending shortage of plutonium, its fuel of choice for deep-space probes in the outer solar system when solar panels are not enough. This is alarming.

A possible future for NASA’s forays into deep space can be found at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, at the bottom of what looks like an indoor swimming pool.

There, bathed in the electric-blue light of the nuclear High Flux Isotope Reactor, aluminum tubes packed with small, silvery cylinders of the radioactive element neptunium-237 are being bombarded with neutrons. It is modern-day alchemy; the neutrons are transmuting the neptunium into something that, at least to NASA’s mission planners, is more precious than gold: plutonium-238 (Pu-238), one of the rarest and most fleeting materials in the universe. Once made, the Pu-238 will glow red-hot for years on end as it gradually decays into uranium. Pu-238 cannot be used to make atomic bombs, nor is it particularly useful for fueling nuclear reactors, which are widely considered too controversial and expensive for practical use in space missions. Instead, Pu-238’s steady supply of heat makes it an ideal power source for long-haul interplanetary voyages where conditions may be too dim and cold for solar power and chemical batteries.

But NASA’s supply is running out, and the Department of Energy’s efforts to make more at Oak Ridge are proceeding too sluggishly for comfort. Alarmed members of Congress have repeatedly demanded that NASA produce studies detailing just how much plutonium it needs, how it plans to acquire the plutonium, and what‘s at stake if the stockpile runs out, but to date, those demands have not passed into law. The latest push came in late July, when Senator Rob Portman and Representative Steve Stivers, both from Ohio, each introduced their own version of the Efficient Space Exploration Act, which mandates such reports. Both bills remain in committee and have not been brought to a formal vote.

Without sustained support and clear direction, NASA’s nascent efforts to shore up more Pu-238 could falter, and further missions to the darkest depths and corners of the solar system could become impossible. Unless, as some nuclear-shy mission planners advocate, NASA manages to use solar power farther out from the Sun than previously thought possible.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm

[OBSCURA] On how Prince Edward Island has been completely snowed in

CBC Prince Edward Island shared a remarkable picture yesterday, a high resolution satellite image of the Gulf of St. Lawrence basin from space that also showed how Prince Edward Island was almost overwhelmed.

Buzzfeed’s Tanya Chen created a collection of pictures curated from social media showing the extent of the snow, while Island blogger Peter Rukavina shared a picture of his neighbourhood now that things are barely passable. Summerside’s Journal-Pioneer has shared the story, with photos, of a Summerside couple who dug a 25-foot tunnel to find his buried vehicles.

Somewhere in Marcel Landry’s Summerside backyard is his car, though you’d have to take his word for it.

Like many Islanders in this most recent storm, Landry and his fiance Stephanie Collicutt, who live on Notre Dame Street, watched the snow drift up and over their parked vehicles. But their case is a bit extreme.

Landry reported Tuesday that the area where his vehicle is parked is under roughly two storeys of snow.

So Monday night, lacking a better option, he started digging towards his vehicles.

After about six hours of digging he’d carved out a snowy pathway measuring 25-feet long and six-feet high in some places.

There will be stories about this for years.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • At Antipope, Harry Connolly analyzes a paragraph of Charlie Stross’ writing in detail.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait and the Planetary Society Blog’s Casey Dreier both note NASA’s interest in sending a probe to Europa.
  • blogTO notes that Wrigley will shut down a gum-manufacturing plant in Toronto, at the cost of 400 jobs.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a survey of 12 nearby red dwarf stars indicating that none of them have massive planets in close orbits.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes India’s interest in Japan’s Soryu submarine.
  • Kieran Healy analyzes vaccination data in California, looking at rates of vaccination in different types of schools.
  • Language Hat analyzes the complexities of Gogol’s writing style.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at a debt-restructuring plan for Greece.
  • The Planetary Society Blog shares the latest images from Ceres.
  • Strange Maps looks at the distribution of federally-owned lands across the United States.
  • Transit Toronto notes the passage of a new TTC budget aiming to fix underfunding-related problems.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers when voters should defer to the views of scientists.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia might be trying to de-Turkify Crimea, notes the non-Russian past of Siberia, and suggests that current Russian policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy of enemy-making.

[LINK] “Why NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Flew Old, Slow Computers Into Orbit”

Universe Today’s Elizabeth Howell explains why new spacecraft like NASA’s Orion use older computers. Their failure modes are well-known, it turns out, and combine capability with durability generally.

It’s funny to think that your smartphone might be faster than a new spaceship, but that’s what one report is saying about the Orion spacecraft. The computers are less-than-cutting-edge, the processors are 12 years old, and the speed at which it “thinks” is … slow, at least compared to a typical laptop today.

But according to NASA, there’s good reasoning behind using older equipment. In fact, it’s common for the agency to use this philosophy when designing missions — even one such as Orion, which saw the spacecraft soar 3,600 miles (roughly 5,800 kilometers) above Earth in an uncrewed test last week and make the speediest re-entry for a human spacecraft since the Apollo years.

The reason, according to a Computer World report, is to design the spacecraft for reliability and being rugged. Orion — which soared into the radiation-laden Van Allen belts above Earth — needs to withstand that environment and protect humans on board. The computer is therefore based on a well-tested Honeywell system used in 787 jetliners. And Orion in fact carries three computers to provide redundancy if radiation causes a reset.

“The one thing we really like about this computer is that it doesn’t get destroyed by radiation,” said Matt Lemke, NASA’s deputy manager for Orion’s avionics, power and software team, in the report. “It can be upset, but it won’t fail. We’ve done a lot of testing on the different parts of the computer. When it sees radiation, it might have to reset, but it will come back up and work again.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 11, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with , , , , ,

[LINK] “The 1970s Spacecraft is Ours Again!”

io9 reported last night that ISEE-3, a space probe launched in 1978 and at risk of abandonment after NASA stopped funding, was successfully contacted by a crowdfunded effort.

ISEE 3 is a spacecraft from the 1970s currently creeping back up on Earth orbit. NASA abandoned it, but after a crowdfunding campaign, a team of citizen-scientists visited Arecibo with homebrew-hardware and made first-contact. Communications are re-established, and everything looks good to recover the craft!

After establishing that we can hear the ISEE signal loud and clear, the next stage was to open up two-way communications by giving the spacecraft commands. At the start of this campaign, we didn’t have the code, hardware, or knowledge of how to do that, but with a lot of work, your financial assistance, and a bit of luck, the team pulled together a new hardware emulator to speak to the craft in a language it understands.

Communication requires a hardware amplifier installed in the dish at Arecibo. After a lot of fiddling around and even an earthquake, everything was ready.The team has been waiting since Friday last week for permission from NASA to go ahead with first contact. Every day of delay was a mounting risk, as orbital dynamics has no patience for paperwork.

More, including links, are at io9. While the team is still waiting to get data back from the probe as to its functionality, it may well be launched on a new mission thanks to this crowdfunding.

Back in February, Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society Blog predicted the loss of the spacecraft. It’s nice to know that this prediction was wrong.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with , , , ,

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO shares photos of Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when the downtown was dominated by … parking lots.
  • Centauri Dreams hopes that the 2030s will be the decade when Europa (and its sibling moons like Ganymede) get explored.
  • Eastern Approaches guides readers through the competing Russian and Ukrainian iconographies of eastern Ukraine.
  • Hunting Monsters noted that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the fall of Dien Bien Phu to Vietnamese rebels.
  • Language Hat draws from Herta Muller’s observation for the Romanian language’s sexual obscenities.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen notes that income in Brooklyn fell slightly, suggesting that gentrification isn’t driving people out.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Casey Dreier celebrates the restoration of 170 million dollars in funding to NASA’s planetary science programs.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer suggests that Panama hasn’t revealed the bank accounts of potentially corrupt Venezuelan officials because it doesn’t want to scare off Venezuelans generally.
  • Peter Rukavina and Van Waffle both reflect on yesterday’s death of Canadian author Farley Mowat.
  • The Russian Demographics blog reflects on Ukraine’s war losses.
  • Towleroad notes a documentary exploring the gay accent.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that some Russians would like to annex southern Ukraine, so as to be able to acquire the Moldovan enclave of Transnistria.