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  • NuSTAR Takes Beautiful X-ray Image of Sol

    New submitter swell points out a new image release from NASA, the first taken of the Sun by its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). It's the most sensitive shot ever taken in the high-energy X-ray range of the spectrum. Direct image link. While the sun is too bright for other telescopes such as NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, NuSTAR can safely look at it without the risk of damaging its detectors. The sun is not as bright in the higher-energy X-rays detected by NuSTAR, a factor that depends on the temperature of the sun's atmosphere. ... With NuSTAR's high-energy views, it has the potential to capture hypothesized nanoflares -- smaller versions of the sun's giant flares that erupt with charged particles and high-energy radiation. Nanoflares, should they exist, may explain why the sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, is sizzling hot, a mystery called the "coronal heating problem." The corona is, on average, 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius), while the surface of the sun is relatively cooler at 10,800 Fahrenheit (6,000 degrees Celsius). It is like a flame coming out of an ice cube. Nanoflares, in combination with flares, may be sources of the intense heat.

    42 comments | yesterday

  • Can Rep. John Culberson Save NASA's Space Exploration Program?

    MarkWhittington writes The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger has published the seventh in his series of articles about the American space program and what ails it. The piece focuses on Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who has two fascinating aspects. The first is that he is taking over the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA funding. The second is that he has a keen appreciation for the benefits of space exploration for its own sake and not just for his Houston area district.

    Culberson wants to save NASA and the space program from his fellow politicians and return it to its true glory. He favors sending American astronauts back to the moon and a robotic space probe to Jupiter's moon Europa. He would like to enact budget reforms that take funding decisions away from the Office of Management and Budget and gives them solely to Congress. He favors a steady increase in NASA funding to pay for a proper program of space exploration. To say the least, he has his work cut out for him.

    155 comments | 3 days ago

  • NASA 'Emails' a Socket Wrench To the ISS

    HughPickens.com writes: "Sarah LeTrent reports at CNN that NASA just emailed the design of a socket wrench to astronauts so that they could print it out in the orbit. The ratcheting socket wrench was the first "uplink tool" printed in space, according to Grant Lowery, marketing and communications manager for Made In Space, which built the printer in partnership with NASA. The tool was designed on the ground, emailed to the space station and then manufactured where it took four hours to print out the finished product. The space agency hopes to one day use the technology to make parts for broken equipment in space and long-term missions would benefit greatly from onboard manufacturing capabilities. "I remember when the tip broke off a tool during a mission," recalls NASA astronaut TJ Creamer, who flew aboard the space station during Expedition 22/23 from December 2009 to June 2010. "I had to wait for the next shuttle to come up to bring me a new one. Now, rather than wait for a resupply ship to bring me a new tool, in the future, I could just print it."

    144 comments | 3 days ago

  • NASA Video Shows What It's Like To Reenter the Earth's Atmosphere

    astroengine writes: In a mesmerizing new video released by NASA, the Dec. 5 reentry of the Orion test space vehicle is chronicled — and it's a phenomenal 10-minute ride from fiery reentry to sudden splashdown into the Pacific Ocean. (YouTube Link.)

    74 comments | 5 days ago

  • The Dominant Life Form In the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

    Jason Koebler writes: If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won't look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It's likely they won't be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper "Alien Minds," written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

    386 comments | 5 days ago

  • Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

    astroengine writes NASA's Kepler space telescope has detected its first new extrasolar planet after mission engineers were able to save the mission from a premature death after two of the exoplanet hunter's four stabilizing reaction wheels failed last year. Called "K2," the extended mission arose from an "innovative idea" that appears to have given the prolific telescope a new lease on life. "Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington D.C. "Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life."

    28 comments | 5 days ago

  • Satellite Captures Glowing Plants From Space

    sciencehabit writes About 1% of the light that strikes plants is re-emitted as a faint, fluorescent glow—a measure of photosynthetic activity. Today, scientists released a map of this glow as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a NASA satellite launched in July with the goal of mapping the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The map reveals that tropical rainforests near the equator are actively sucking up carbon, while the Corn Belt in the eastern United States, near the end of its growing season, is also a sink. Higher resolution fluorescence mapping could one day be used to help assess crop yields and how they respond to drought and heat in a changing climate.

    40 comments | 5 days ago

  • Terrestrial Gamma Ray Bursts Very Common

    Rambo Tribble writes It was long thought that gamma ray bursts were the exclusive province of deep space sources. More recently it was found that storms could produce such emissions, but such occurrences were thought rare. Now, data from NASA's Fermi satellite suggest such events happen over a thousand times a day. Per Prof. Joseph Dwyer, from the University of New Hampshire, "These are big, monster bursts of gamma rays, and one would think these must be monster storms producing them. But that's not the case. Even boring-looking, garden-variety, little storms can produce these."

    70 comments | about a week ago

  • NASA Tests Feasibility of 3D Printing on the Moon and Other Planets

    ErnieKey writes A major application of 3d printing that could revolutionize space travel would be using 3d printers to create structures on non-terrestrial bodies like the moon, other planets, and even asteroids. Researchers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center have been working to develop solutions to materials issues, and recently presented initial findings on the potential for using in-situ materials like basalt for 3D printing. Their innovative method is based on only using in-situ supplies, and not materials that need to be brought into space.

    58 comments | about a week ago

  • NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities For Venus Exploration

    An anonymous reader writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on a study out of NASA exploring the idea that manned missions to Venus are possible if astronauts deploy and live in airships once they arrive. Since the atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that of Earth, and the surface temperate is over 450 degrees C, the probes we've sent to Venus haven't lasted long. The Venera 8 probe sent back data for only 50 minutes after landing. Soviet missions in 1985 were able to get much more data — 46 hours worth — by suspending their probes from balloons. The new study refines that concept: "At 50 kilometers above its surface, Venus offers one atmosphere of pressure and only slightly lower gravity than Earth. Mars, in comparison, has a "sea level" atmospheric pressure of less than a hundredth of Earth's, and gravity just over a third Earth normal. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is around 75 C, which is a mere 17 degrees hotter than the highest temperature recorded on Earth.

    The defining feature of these missions is the vehicle that will be doing the atmospheric exploring: a helium-filled, solar-powered airship. The robotic version would be 31 meters long (about half the size of the Goodyear blimp), while the crewed version would be nearly 130 meters long, or twice the size of a Boeing 747. The top of the airship would be covered with more than 1,000 square meters of solar panels, with a gondola slung underneath for instruments and, in the crewed version, a small habitat and the ascent vehicle that the astronauts would use to return to Venus's orbit, and home."

    200 comments | about a week ago

  • 11 Trillion Gallons of Water Needed To End California Drought

    mrflash818 points out a new study which found that California can recover from its lengthy drought with a mere 11 trillion gallons of water. The volume this water would occupy (roughly 42 cubic kilometers) is half again as large as the biggest water reservoir in the U.S. A team of JPL scientists worked this out through the use of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. From the article: GRACE data reveal that, since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by four trillion gallons of water each year (15 cubic kilometers). That's more water than California's 38 million residents use each year for domestic and municipal purposes. About two-thirds of the loss is due to depletion of groundwater beneath California's Central Valley. ... New drought maps show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest two to 10 percent since 1949.

    328 comments | about a week ago

  • Curiosity Detects Mysterious Methane Spikes On Mars

    astroengine writes: A gas strongly associated with life on Earth has been detected again in the Martian atmosphere, opening a new chapter in a decade-old mystery about the on-again, off-again appearance of methane on Mars. The latest discovery comes from NASA's Curiosity rover, which in addition to analyzing rocks and soil samples, is sniffing the air at its Gale Crater landing site. A year ago, scientists reported that Curiosity had come up empty-handed after an eight-month search for methane in the atmosphere, leaving earlier detections by ground-based telescopes and Mars-orbiting spacecraft an unexplained anomaly. "We thought we had closed the book on methane. It was disappointing to a lot of people that there wasn't significant methane on Mars, but that's where we were," Curiosity scientist Christopher Webster with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.

    68 comments | about a week ago

  • NASA's $349 Million Empty Tower

    An anonymous reader writes: In a scathing indictment of NASA's bureaucracy, the Washington Post documents a $349 million project to construct a laboratory tower that was closed as soon as it was finished. From the article: "[The tower was] designed to test a new rocket engine in a chamber that mimicked the vacuum of space. ... As soon as the work was done, it shut the tower down. The project was officially 'mothballed' — closed up and left empty — without ever being used. ... The reason for the shutdown: The new tower — called the A-3 test stand — was useless. Just as expected. The rocket program it was designed for had been canceled in 2010. ... The result was that NASA spent four more years building something it didn't need. Now, the agency will spend about $700,000 a year to maintain it in disuse. ... Jerked from one mission to another, NASA lost its sense that any mission was truly urgent. It began to absorb the vices of less-glamorous bureaucracies: Officials tended to let projects run over time and budget. Its congressional overseers tended to view NASA first as a means to deliver pork back home, and second as a means to deliver Americans into space. In Mississippi, NASA built a monument to its own institutional drift."

    200 comments | about a week ago

  • NASA Gets 2% Boost To Science Budget

    sciencehabit writes For an agency regularly called 'adrift' without a mission, NASA will at least float through next year with a boatload of money for its science programs. Yesterday Congress reached agreement on a spending deal for fiscal year 2015 that boosts the budget of the agency's science mission by nearly 2% to $5.24 billion. The big winner within the division is planetary sciences, which received $160 million more than the president's 2015 request in March. Legislators also maintained support for an infrared telescope mounted on a Boeing 747, a project that the White House had proposed grounding. NASA's overall budget also rose by 2%, to $18 billion. That's an increase of $364 million over 2014 levels, and half a billion dollars beyond the agency's request.

    121 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus

    Nerval's Lobster writes What if you could construct an unmanned aerial vehicle out of biological material, specifically a lightweight-but-strong one known as mycelium? The vegetative part of a fungus, mycelium is already under consideration as a building material; other materials would include cellulose sheets, layered together into "leather," as well as starches worked into a "bioplastic." While a mushroom-made drone is probably years away from takeoff, a proposal for the device caught some attention at this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. Designed by a team of students from Brown, Spelman, and Stanford Universities in conjunction with researchers from NASA, such a drone would (theoretically) offer a cheap and lightweight way to get a camera and other tools airborne. 'If we want to fly it over wildfires to see where it's spreading, or if there's a nuclear meltdown and we want to fly in to see what's going on with the radioactivity, we can send in the drone and it can send back data without returning,' Ian Hull, a Stanford sophomore involved in the project, told Fast Company.

    52 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Curiosity's Mars Crater Was Once a Vast Lake

    astroengine writes The mountain that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is exploring appears to have once been a lake, scientists said Monday. Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered debris rising from the floor of Gale Crater, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, images posted on NASA's website ahead of conference call with reporters show. Sediments to create the mountain likely originated from the crater rim highlands and were transported toward the center of the crater in alluvial fans, deltas, and wind-blown drifts, scientists said. "During wet periods, water pooled in lakes where sediments settled out in the center of crater," NASA said. "Even during dry periods in the crater center, groundwater would have existed beneath the surface. Then, during the next wet period it would resurface to form the next lake. This alternation of lakes, rivers and deserts could have represented a long-lasting habitable environment."

    42 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Ends Hibernation To Start Mission

    An anonymous reader writes NASA's New Horizons spacecraft awoke from hibernation on Saturday and sent a radio confirmation that it had successfully turned itself back on one and a half hours later. The spacecraft has been traveling for nine years across the solar system towards its destination, Pluto. From the article: "In 2006, with New Horizons already on its way, Pluto was stripped of its title as the ninth planet in the solar system and became a dwarf planet, of which more than 1,000 have since been discovered in the Kuiper Belt. With New Horizons approaching Pluto's doorstep, scientists are eager for their first close-up look at this unexplored domain."

    77 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Orion Capsule Safely Recovered, Complete With 12-Year-Old Computer Guts

    Lucas123 writes While NASA's Orion spacecraft, which blasted off on a successful test flight today, may be preparing for a first-of-its-kind mission to carry astronauts to Mars and other deep-space missions, the technology inside of it is no where near leading edge. In fact, its computers and its processors are 12 years old — making them ancient in tech years. The spacecraft, according to one NASA engineer, is built to be rugged and reliable in the face of G forces, massive amounts of radiation and the other rigors of space."Compared to the [Intel] Core i5 in your laptop, it's much slower — much less powerful. It's probably not any faster than your smartphone," Matt Lemke, NASA's deputy manager for Orion's avionics, power and software team, told Computerworld. Lemke said the spacecraft was built to be rugged and reliable — not necessarily smart. That's why there are two flight computers. Orion's main computer was built by Honeywell as a flight computer originally for Boeing's 787 jet airliner. Not only was the launch itself successful, but the sensor-laden craft's splashdown was smooth ("bulls-eye," as NASA puts it), and NASA has now recovered the capsule. ABC News has some good photos, too.

    197 comments | about three weeks ago

  • NASA's Orion Capsule Reaches Orbit

    PaisteUser sends word that NASA's Orion capsule successfully reached orbit this morning after a flawless launch atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. Video of the launch is available on YouTube, and the Orion Mission blog has frequent updates as mission milestones are reached. Mission managers said the rocket and capsule performed perfectly during the initial phases of the test. "It was just a blast to see how well the rocket did," said Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion program manager. After Orion makes its first circuit around the planet, the rocket's upper stage will kick it into a second, highly eccentric orbit that loops as far as 3,600 miles from Earth. Then Orion will come screaming back into Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph — 80 percent of the velocity that a spacecraft returning from the moon would experience. This particular Orion is missing a lot of the components that would be needed for a crewed flight, and it won't be carrying humans. Instead, it's outfitted with more than 1,200 sensors to monitor how its communication and control systems deal with heightened radiation levels, how its heat shield handles re-entry temperatures that are expected to rise as high as 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and how its parachutes slow the craft down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

    140 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Technical Hitches Delay Orion Capsule's First Launch

    According to NBC news, "A series of delays held up the maiden launch of NASA's Orion capsule on Thursday, adding some extra suspense to the first test of a spacecraft that's designed to take humans farther than they've ever gone — including to Mars." The much-anticipated launch, which had been scheduled for launch 7:05 a.m. Florida time, is to boost into orbit — empty — an instance of the Orion crew capsule intended to be part of a manned mission to Mars. As of shortly after 9 a.m. eastern time, troubleshooting has been in progress on the Alliance Delta 4 launch vehicle's hydrogen fill and drain valves in attempt to make the launch within today's launch window, which extends to 9:44 a.m. Besides the technical problem with those valves, the launch was delayed by wind, as well as by a boat that strayed into a restricted area. (Shades of the stray-boat delay in October for Orbital Science's ISS delivery launch.) Friday and Saturday have been designated as backup dates. Update: 12/04 15:03 GMT by T : The launch has been scrubbed.

    71 comments | about three weeks ago

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