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StartsWithABang writes: We like to think of our Solar System as typical: a central star with a number of planets — some gas giants and some rocky worlds — in orbit around it. Yes, there's some variety, with binary or trinary star systems and huge variance in the masses of the central star being common ones, but from a planetary point of view, our Solar System is a rarity. Even though there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy for planets to orbit, there are most likely around a quadrillion planets in our galaxy, total, with only a few trillion of them orbiting stars at most. Now that we've finally detected the first of these, we have an excellent idea that this picture is the correct one: most planets in the Universe are homeless. Now, thank your lucky star!"
0 comments | 1 minute ago
MarkWhittington writes Professor Richard Binzel published a commentary in the journal Nature that called for two things. He proposed that NASA cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission currently planned for the early 2020s. Instead, he would like the asteroid survey mandated by the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act of 2005, part of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, funded at $200 million a year. Currently NASA funds the survey at $20 million a year, considered inadequate to complete the identification of 90 percent of hazardous near-Earth objects 140 meters or greater by 2020 as mandated by the law.
107 comments | yesterday
sciencehabit writes: Unmanned drones aren't just for warfare. In recent years, they've been used to map wildlife and monitor crop growth. But current software can't always handle the vast volume of images they gather. Now, researchers have developed an algorithm that will allow drones to 3D-map scores of hectares of land in less than a day — an advance that is important for cost-effective farming, disaster relief, and surveillance operations.
Their computer program directly projects the points from each photo onto a 3D space without knowing the exact shape of the land or the camera positions. As a result, the tie points don't necessarily match up, which means the same corn plant can have two projections on the model. When that happens, the algorithm automatically takes the middle point between the two projections as the more accurate location and adjusts the camera position accordingly, one image at a time. Because the algorithm tweaks far fewer things at each step, the shortcut drastically speeds up calculations. Once the software has adjusted the camera positions for all the photos, the software repeats the entire process — starting from projecting the points to the 3D space — to correct for any errors.
94 comments | 2 days ago
schwit1 writes: The largest sunspot seen in about a quarter century has produced another powerful X-class flare today, the sixth in less than a week. "This was the sixth X-class solar flare from NOAA 2192, a record for the number of X-class flares generated by a single group so far this solar cycle. It was also the fourth X-class flare since last Friday, continuing a period of intense flaring activity. This sunspot group has grown again a bit, and maintains its magnetic complexity. A degradation of the HF radio-communication was observed over South-America, the Caribbean, and West-Africa." The last sentence is referring to some radio communications blackouts that have occurred in these areas because of the flares.
46 comments | 2 days ago
sneakyimp writes: The Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded on launch due to a "catastrophic anomaly" after a flawless countdown. No injuries are reported and all personnel are accounted for. According to the audio stream hosted by local news affiliate WTVR's website, the Cygnus spacecraft contained classified crypto technology and efforts are being made to cordon off the wreckage area. Additionally, interviews of personnel and witness reports are to be limited to appropriate government agencies so that an accident report can be generated. This accident is likely to have a detrimental effect on the stock price of Orbital Sciences Corp, traded on the NYSE. The Antares rocket's engines are based on old soviet designs from the '60s. While this is sure to be a blow to NASA due to the cost, it may well boost the fortunes of SpaceX, a chief competitor of Orbital Sciences. Both companies were recently awarded resupply contracts by NASA.
442 comments | 2 days ago
An anonymous reader points out NASA's info page on the Anatares rocket launch happening later today. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport are set to support the launch of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket at 6:45 p.m. EDT, October 27. The Antares rocket will carry Orbital's Cygnus cargo spacecraft, loaded with some 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments, to the International Space Station. The launch may be visible, weather permitting, to residents throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States. Here's a visibility map of launch. Public viewing of the launch will be available at the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops and at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague Island National Seashore. Here's more information about the Visitors Center, including directions, and information on viewing sites recommended by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission. Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at noon on the Wallops Ustream site."
36 comments | 4 days ago
mbone writes with news about the first privately-funded spacecraft to travel the Moon. Cold War competition between superpowers dominated the first decades of space travel and exploration. Individual governments took the lead, bankrolling most of the process in the name of competition and nationalism. Ultimately international cooperation and collaboration took root, and the landscape is already very different. The present and future of space exploration is more collaborative, more international, and involves both space agencies and private companies. One such project is the combination Chang’e 5-T1 and Manfred Memorial Moon Mission (4M), which launched together last Thursday. Both projects are testbeds for ideas: Chang’e 5-T1 is a prototype for a robotic probe intended to return samples from the Moon to Earth, while 4M is a simple communications experiment encouraging amateur participation. But the intriguing bit is that 4M is a project of the private Luxembourg-based company LuxSpace, while Chang’e 5-T1 is a Chinese project, and the whole endeavor was launched on a Chinese rocket.
73 comments | 4 days ago
An anonymous reader writes If you like the smell of rotten eggs, horse urine, formaldehyde, bitter almonds, alcohol, vinegar with a hint of sweet ether, you'd love the smell of a comet. Researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, determined the odor of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet by analyzing the chemicals in its coma, the fuzzy head surrounding the nucleus. The molecules were collected by an instrument aboard the Rosetta spacecraft, which has been flying in tandem with the comet.
53 comments | 4 days ago
An anonymous reader writes SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean carrying NASA cargo and scientific samples from the International Space Station. A boat is ferrying the spacecraft to a port near Los Angeles, where NASA said the 1.5 tons of materials will be removed and returned to the space agency by late tomorrow for scientists to pick apart. "This mission enabled research critical to achieving NASA's goal of long-duration human spaceflight in deep space," said Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station division at NASA headquarters.
60 comments | 4 days ago
An anonymous reader writes: Cristophe de Dinechin, long-time software developer, has an interesting article on the processes involved in building the major browsers. From the article:
"Mozilla Firefox, Chromium (the open-source variant of Chrome) and WebKit (the basis for Safari) are all great examples of open-source software. The Qt project has a simple webkit-based web browser in their examples. So that's at least four different open-source web browsers to choose from. But what does it take to actually build them? The TL;DR answer is that these are complex pieces of software, each of them with rather idiosyncratic build systems, and that you should consider 100GB of disk space to build all the browsers, a few hours of download, and be prepared to learn lots of new, rather specific tools."
106 comments | 5 days ago
sciencehabit writes: Here's one reason libraries hang on to old science journals: A paper from an experiment conducted 32 years ago may shed light on the nature of dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity appears to keep the galaxies from flying apart. The old data put a crimp in the newfangled concept of a 'dark photon' and suggest that a simple bargain-basement experiment could put the idea to the test. The data come from E137, a "beam dump" experiment that ran from 1980 to 1982 at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California. In the experiment, physicists slammed a beam of high-energy electrons, left over from other experiments, into an aluminum target to see what would come out. Researchers placed a detector 383 meters behind the target, on the other side of a sandstone hill 179 meters thick that blocked any ordinary particles.
93 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Abby Phillip reports at the Washington Post that that Mark Zuckerberg just posted a 30-minute Q&A at Tsinghua University in Beijing in which he answered every question exclusively in Chinese — a notoriously difficult language to learn and particularly, to speak. "It isn't just Zuckerberg's linguistic acrobatics that make this a notable moment," writes Philip. "This small gesture — although some would argue that it is a huge moment — is perhaps his strongest foray into the battle for hearts and minds in China." Zuckerberg and Facebook have been aggressively courting Chinese users for years and the potential financial upside for the business. Although Beijing has mostly banned Facebook, the company signed a contract for its first ever office in China earlier this year. A Westerner speaking Mandarin in China — at any level — tends to elicit joy from average Chinese, who seem to appreciate the effort and respect they feel learning Mandarin demonstrates. So how well did he actually do? One Mandarin speaker rates Zuckerberg's language skills at a seventh grader's speech: "It's hard not see a patronizing note in the Chinese audience's reaction to Zuckerberg's Mandarin. To borrow from Samuel Johnson's quip, he was like a dog walking on its hind legs: It wasn't done well, but it was a surprise to see it done at all."
216 comments | about a week ago
relliker writes In the olden days, when monitoring a file system of a few 100 MB, we would be alerted when it topped 90% or more, with 95% a lot of times considered quite critical. Today, however, with a lot of file systems in the Terabyte range, a 90-95% full file system can still have a considerable amount of free space but we still mostly get bugged by the same alerts as in the days of yore when there really isn't a cause for immediate concern. Apart from increasing thresholds and/or starting to monitor actual free space left instead of a percentage, should it be time for monitoring systems to become a bit more intelligent by taking space usage trends and heuristics into account too and only warn about critical usage when projected thresholds are exceeded? I'd like my system to warn me with something like, 'Hey!, you'll be running out of space in a couple of months if you go on like this!' Or is this already the norm and I'm still living in a digital cave? What do you use, on what operating system?
170 comments | about a week ago
astroengine writes Scientists have found two families of comets in the developing Beta Pictoris star system, located about 64 light-years from Earth, including one group that appears to be remnants of a smashed-up protoplanet. The discovery bolsters our theoretical understanding of the violent processes that led to the formation of Earth and the other terrestrial planets in the solar system. "If you look back at the solar system when it was only 22 million years old, you might have seen phenomena that's a like more like what's happening in Beta Pic," astrophysicist Aki Roberge, with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., told Discovery News.
23 comments | about a week ago
An anonymous reader writes: Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the NuSTAR satellite have discovered a pulsar so bright that it challenges how scientists think pulsars work. While observing galaxy M82 in hopes of spotting supernovae, the researchers found an unexpected source of X-rays very close to the galaxy's core. It was near another source, thought to be a black hole. But the new one was pulsing, which black holes don't do. The trouble is that according to known pulsar models, it's about 100 times brighter than the calculated limits to its luminosity (abstract). Researchers used a different method to figure out its mass, and the gap shrank, but it's still too bright to fit their theories.
70 comments | about a week ago
An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic has a nice profile of SpaceX's rise to prominence — how a private startup managed to successfully compete with industry giants like Boeing in just a decade of existence. "Regardless of its inspirations, the company was forced to adopt a prosaic initial goal: Make a rocket at least 10 times cheaper than is possible today. Until it can do that, neither flowers nor people can go to Mars with any economy. With rocket technology, Musk has said, "you're really left with one key parameter against which technology improvements must be judged, and that's cost." SpaceX currently charges $61.2 million per launch. Its cost-per-kilogram of cargo to low-earth orbit, $4,653, is far less than the $14,000 to $39,000 offered by its chief American competitor, the United Launch Alliance. Other providers often charge $250 to $400 million per launch; NASA pays Russia $70 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on its three-person Soyuz spacecraft. SpaceX's costs are still nowhere near low enough to change the economics of space as Musk and his investors envision, but they have a plan to do so (of which more later)."
95 comments | about a week ago
KentuckyFC writes: Earth's closest white dwarf is called van Maanen 2 and sits 14 light-years from here. It was discovered by the Dutch astronomer Adriaan van Maanen in 1917, but it was initially hard to classify. That's because its spectra contains lots of heavy elements alongside hydrogen and helium, the usual components of a white dwarf photosphere. In recent years, astronomers have discovered many white dwarfs with similar spectra and shown that the heavy elements come from asteroids raining down onto the surface of the stars. It turns out that all these white dwarfs are orbited by a large planet and an asteroid belt. As the planet orbits, it perturbs the rocky belt, causing asteroids to collide and spiral in toward their parent star. This process is so common that astronomers now use the heavy element spectra as a marker for the presence of extrasolar planets. A re-analysis of van Maanen's work shows that, in hindsight, he was the first to discover the tell-tale signature of extrasolar planets almost a century ago.
58 comments | about two weeks ago
astroengine writes The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has become the first instrument orbiting Mars to beam back images of comet Siding Spring's nucleus and coma. And by default, it has also become the first ever mission to photograph a long-period comet's pristine nucleus on its first foray into the inner solar system. Interestingly, through analysis of these first HiRISE observations, astronomers have determined that the icy nucleus at the comet's core is much smaller than originally thought. "Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer, wide," writes a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release. "However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size less than half that estimate."
47 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: With the construction of Orion, NASA's new manned spacecraft, comes the creation of a new Launch Abort System — the part of the vehicle that will get future astronauts back to Earth safely if there's a problem at launch. The Planetary Society's Jason Davis describes it: "When Orion reaches the apex of its abort flight, it is allowed to make its 180-degree flip. The capsule of astronauts, who have already realized they will not go to space today, experience a brief moment of weightlessness before the capsule starts falling back to Earth, heat shield down. The jettison motor fires, pulling the LAS away from Orion. ... Orion, meanwhile, sheds its Forward Bay Cover, a ring at the top of the capsule protecting the parachutes. Two drogue chutes deploy, stabilizing the wobbling capsule. The drogues pull out Orion's three main chutes, no doubt eliciting a sigh of relief from the spacecraft's occupants."
44 comments | about two weeks ago
globaljustin writes "Alan Drysdale, a systems analyst in advanced life support and a contractor with NASA concluded, "Small women haven't been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there's no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it's brain power you want," says Drysdale. "The logical thing to do is to fly small women." Kate Greene, who wrote the linked article, took part in the first HI-SEAS experiment in Martian-style living, and has some compelling reasons for an all-women crew, energy efficiency chief among them: Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000. ... The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain her weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with her. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.
399 comments | about two weeks ago