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Space

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Galactic Getaways.

“‘It feels like we’re living in the future, or science fiction is coming to life. We thought it would be really cool to explore the characteristics of each planet through the context of travel.'” As Kepler finds its 1,000th exoplanet, NASA celebrates by commissioning nifty vintage travel posters for faraway worlds. Either of the above might be good for a swing-through while folding space to Arrakis.

The Fields Under Lock and Key | In Eclipse.

“Miller, whose parents would rouse him in the wee hours to watch space launches, was awestruck by Launch Complex 19, where the manned Gemini missions took off. It was slowly rusting away, and Miller resolved to photograph it while there was still time. It took two years of haggling before he made his first images of Cape Canaveral…Since then, he has photographed sites nationwide, including Johnson & Kennedy space centers, the Marshall & Stennis Space Flight centers, Langley Research Center and many more.”

In Wired, photographer Roland Miller captures the decaying infrastructure of the early space race. “As launch pads were replaced, retrofitted or decommissioned, Miller was invited inside. By his estimate, 50 percent of the things he’s photographed no longer exist. ‘It’s not in NASA’s mission to conserve these sites,’ he says. ‘With shrinking budgets it’s an impossible thing to do.'”

***

“There’s not only last week’s deadly crash by Virgin Galactic, which hoped to launch widespread space tourism, or the unexpected explosion of a rocket headed toward the International Space Station. The United States also retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011. And…we now spend less on NASA — relative to the wealth of overall economy — than at any point in history.”

In very related news, and in the wake of Interstellar (which, on account of all the reasons I just mentioned, I haven’t seen yet), the Post‘s Zachary Goldfarb briefly surveys our current neglect of the space program. (Here’s what we’ve got planned at the moment.) “As recently as 2012, polling showed that more Americans than ever before thought that we were spending too little.”

The Lander That Could.

“‘Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence,’ lander manager Stephan Ulamec said in a statement. ‘This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered’…’The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science,’ said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.”

After traveling 4 billion miles, accomplishing an exhilarating landing on a 84,000-mph moving target, and, after 57 hours of work in an unfortunately dark location, successfully sending a valedictory round of data, the ESA’s history-making Philae probe falls into slumber. “We still hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when we are nearer to the Sun, we might have enough solar illumination to wake up the lander and re-establish communication.” Rest well, little lander — ya did good.

An Infant System.

“[T]he most breathtaking aspects of the image are the rings and gaps in the disk, never imaged before in this much detail. The largest gaps likely contain protoplanets, which form by collecting gas, dust, and small meteoroid fragments, gradually clearing their orbit of that debris. The combination of those gaps and the young age of HL Tauri suggest planets may form more quickly than astronomers think.”

Also in space news, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captures our best look yet at potential planetary formation around a newborn star, 450 light years away. “The disk surrounding HL Tauri is much bigger than Neptune’s orbit, so any planet in the gaps would at least begin at a larger orbit than the major planets in the Solar System. Additionally, other gaps could be ‘resonances’: orbits where the combined gravity of the star and protoplanets drive matter out, concentrating it in the rings.”

Immeasurable Heaven.

“Discounting cosmic expansion, their map shows flow lines down which galaxies creep under the effect of gravity in their local region…Based on this, the team defines the edge of a supercluster as the boundary at which these flow lines diverge. On one side of the line, galaxies flow towards one gravitational centre; beyond it, they flow towards another. ‘It’s like water dividing at a watershed, where it flows either to the left or right of a height of land,’ says Tully.”

Using an algorithm based on the velocity of redshifting galaxies, a team of University of Hawaii astronomers identify our galaxy’s place in the newly-identified Laniakea supercluster. (Laniakea being Hawaiian for “Immeasurable Heaven.”) Adds Slate‘s Phil Plait: “Laniakea is about 500 million light years across, a staggering size, and contains the mass of 100 quadrillion Suns — 100 million billion times the mass of our star.”

True Astronaut.

“We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Those True Detective pun titles keep on givin’: Matthew McConaughey goes asking our intergalactic neighbors for water in the newest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, also with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, and David Oyelowo.

As before, I like the space case being made here, but remain worried about the apparent Gravity-levels of schmaltz being used to fuel this probe. We’ll see, this November.

Great Eyes, Lidless.

“The biggest building boom in the history of astronomy is upon us. In Chile and Hawaii and in space, astronomers are getting powerful telescopes that dwarf the current state-of-the-art instruments. When the mountain blasting and the mirror polishing are all done, we will have the clearest and most detailed views of outer space ever.”

By way of Follow Me Here, Gizmodo looks at five massive telescopes that will change the game, including the James Webb Space Telescope, a.k.a. Hubble 2.0. “Since blowing past its initial budget and launch data, NASA promises the ambitious project is on-track for 2018. And it better, because astronomers are eagerly awaiting its data.”

Frost/Kepler.

“The planet is located about 110 million miles (177 million km) from its sun, a type K star that’s dimmer and cooler than ours…It’s located in an area crucial for the formation of planets, the so-called frost line. This is the special distance where the temperature is cold enough for ice grains to form. Any closer to the host star and these grains would be boiled off. But at or beyond the frost line, these ice grains can stick together and form planetary embryos which go on to form gas giants.”

For the first time, Kepler discovers an exoplanet near the frost line, which may help us better understand the formation of worlds. “[The frost line] explains why our gas giants are rich in ice and water, any why the rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) began their existence as very dry worlds; water only arrived later via comets.”

45 and Counting.

“When I look back over the time that’s elapsed since 1969, I wonder what we’re doing. I remember the dreams of NASA, and they were too the dreams of a nation: Huge space stations, mighty rockets plying the solar system, bases and colonies on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids…Instead, we let those small-minded human traits flourish. We’ve let politics, greed, bureaucracy, and short-sightedness rule our actions, and we’ve let them trap us here on the surface of our planet.”

On the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, Phil Plait wonders what the hell happened to the Dream of Space in America. “Venturing into space is not just something we can do. It’s something we must do.”

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