Space

SpaceX Successfully Lands Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Simultaneously After Rocket Launch [Update] (spaceflightnow.com) 446

After nearly a decade of development, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. After reaching orbit, the two side boosters simultaneously landed at Landing Zone One. We do not know the status of the central core of the rocket, which was destined to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship roughly 8:19 minutes into the flight.

According to Space.com, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V -- the iconic vessel that, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust, accomplished the definitive Apollo-era feat of putting astronauts on the moon. Elon Musk says that Falcon Heavy is "twice as powerful as any other booster operating today." As for the payload, it includes a Tesla Roadster electric car. "The Falcon Heavy will send the vehicle around the sun in an elliptical orbit that will extend farther than Mars' orbit," reports Space.com.

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed The Verge's reporting that the middle core of SpaceX's Heavy Rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land. "The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour," reports The Verge. "Two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight."
Space

Scientists May Have Discovered the First Planets Outside the Milky Way (washingtonpost.com) 74

Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The planets range in size from Earth's moon to the massive Jupiter. From the report: There are few methods to determine the existence of distant planets. They are so far away that no telescope can observe them, Dai told The Washington Post. So Dai and postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras relied on a scientific principle to make the discovery: Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory suggests light bends when tugged by the force of gravity. In this case, the light is coming from a quasar -- the nucleus of a galaxy with a swirling black hole -- that emits powerful radiation in the distance. Between that quasar and the space-based laboratory is the galaxy of newly discovered planets. The gravitational force of the galaxy bends the light heading toward the Milky Way, illuminating the galaxy in an effect called microlensing. In that way, the galaxy acts as a magnifying glass of sorts, bringing a previously unseen celestial body into X-ray view. In a university news release, Guerras had a less formal way to describe the complicated process: "This is very cool science."
Moon

How To Watch the 'Super Blue Blood Moon' Lunar Eclipse (livescience.com) 90

Stephanie Pappas reports via Live Science how you can watch Wednesday's "Super Blue Blood Moon" eclipse: The eclipse will occur in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, Jan. 31, when the full moon will pass through the Earth's shadow. Viewers on Earth will see the face of the moon turn a murky red. On the West Coast, totality (the full shading of the moon) will occur at 4:51 a.m. PST until 6:08 a.m. PST. Before that, the moon will enter the outer portion of the Earth's shadow, or penumbra, at 2:51 a.m. PST. The real show will become visible starting at 3:48 a.m. PST, when the moon will be entering the umbra, or central portion of Earth's shadow, and a dark shadow will move over the face of the moon. The moon will leave the umbra at 7:11 a.m. PST. East Coasters can catch the partial lunar eclipse before dawn, but they will miss totality because the moon will have set below the horizon by 7:06 a.m. EST. To see the shadow of the Earth become visible on the moon's face, look up at 6:31 a.m. EST; by 6:48 a.m. EST, the moon will be entering the umbra, or central portion of the shadow, which should make the color change more apparent.

For viewers in the Central and Mountain time zones, the moon will set either during the total eclipse or while the satellite is exiting the Earth's shadow. The moon enters the dark umbra at about 5:48 a.m. CST and will hit totality slightly before moonset, at 6:51 a.m. CST. The umbra will appear at 4:48 a.m. MST, and the moon will enter totality at 5:51 a.m. MST. Viewers in the Mountain time zone will also get the chance to see the middle of totality, when the moon is up to 100,000 times fainter than usual, at 6:29 a.m. The eclipse will end slightly before moonset, at 7:07 a.m. MST. Viewers in Alaska and Hawaii will get a full dose of totality, too, but they'll have to be very early birds or night owls. Totality begins at 3:51 a.m. AKST and ends at 5:05 a.m. AKST. Totality hits at 2:51 a.m. HST and will be over by 4:05 a.m. HST.

Google

Official: No One Is Going To Win the Google Lunar X Prize Competition (theverge.com) 33

The X Prize Foundation announced today that no one is going to win the foundation's competition to send a spacecraft to the Moon. "Only five finalists remained in the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize competition, and in order to win any grand prize money, the teams had to launch and complete their missions to the Moon before March 31st, 2018," reports The Verge. "But with only two months until the deadline, no team is ready to launch, so Google will keep the prize money instead." From the report: The Google Lunar X Prize was established in 2007 as a way to help lower the cost of getting to space. So far, only government agencies have landed on the lunar surface, with missions that have cost many millions and even billions of dollars. That's why the X Prize Foundation, which sets up global competitions, challenged teams with developing and launching robotic lunar landers using mostly private funding. The idea was to make them come up with creative methods for getting to the Moon on the cheap. Landing on the lunar surface was only part of the challenge. Teams had to travel up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) on the Moon too, as well as do live broadcasts. The first to fulfill all these requirements before the deadline would receive $20 million, while the second place team would get $5 million. Other smaller purses would be awarded to teams that did special tasks, such as completing an orbit around the Moon before landing. "As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the Moon," the X Prize Foundation said in its statement. "Many now believe it's no longer the sole purview of a few government agencies, but now may be achieved by small teams of entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators from around the world." A Google spokesperson also told CNBC that the company is "thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years."
Google

Google's $20 Million Race To the Moon Will End With No Winner -- and Google is OK With That (cnbc.com) 85

Michael Sheetz, reporting for CNBC: More than ten years after it was announced -- and extended over and over -- the Google-sponsored race to win $20 million by landing on the moon will end with no winners. The four teams racing to win the Google Lunar Xprize, which requires a company to land a spacecraft on the moon by March 31, are either short of money or unable to launch this year, three people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Meanwhile, Google -- which extended the deadline from 2012 to 2014 and then eventually to 2018 -- is not willing to push out the date further. "Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. The commercial space industry has written off the Lunar Xprize as improbable, and not worth pursuing, according to sources.
Space

Rocket Lab Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Its First Satellites (geekwire.com) 64

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills writes: Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second Electron rocket from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, with the rocket reaching orbit for the first time... This follows the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.
Just 60 seconds before lift-off yesterday, a "rogue ship" entered their launch-range area, prompting them to postpone the launch until today. GeekWire reports: This mission was nicknamed "Still Testing," but unlike the first mission, the objective was not merely to test Rocket Lab's hardware. The rocket had the additional task of putting three nanosatellites in orbit: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites that the Spire space venture would use for tracking ships and monitoring weather... The price tag for a mission is as low as $5 million, thanks to streamlined hardware production techniques. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines.
90 minutes ago Spire tweeted that they'd experienced a "good clean deployment" of their satellites, adding that they were already receiving images and calling it "a huge win" for commercial space, small satellites, the Electron rocket, and New Zealand.

UPDATE: Long-time Slashdot reader Hairy1 shares Rocket Lab's video of their launch.
Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 197

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 157

If regulatory concerns aren't enough to explain Bitcoin's 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon? An anonymous reader writes: The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin's slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. "The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."
Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."
Moon

Scientists Think They've Discovered Lava Tubes Leading To the Moon's Polar Ice (sciencealert.com) 59

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: Small pits in a large crater on the Moon's North Pole could be "skylights" leading down to an underground network of lava tubes -- tubes holding hidden water on Earth's nearest neighbour, according to new research. There's no lava in them now of course, though that's originally how the tubes formed in the Moon's fiery past. But they could indicate easy access to a water source if we ever decide to develop a Moon base sometime in the future.

Despite the Moon's dry and dusty appearance, scientists think it contains a lot of water trapped as frozen ice. What these new observations carried out by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show is that it might be much more accessible than we thought... Scientists have long been thinking about how to extract the ice reserves we think are up there -- solar power was originally out of the question, as it's the freezing shadowed areas of the Moon that have preserved the ice in the first place. Not only would natural skylights like these provide easier access to the underground ice, it would also mean solar power would be back on the table as an idea.

Moon

John Young, Legendary Astronaut, Dies at Age 87 (cbsnews.com) 41

Legendary astronaut John Young -- who walked on the moon and piloted the first space shuttle -- died Friday at the age of 87. schwit1 shares a nice profile from CBS News: A naval aviator and test pilot, Young logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in a variety of aircraft, including 9,200 hours in T-38 jets. He spent 835 hours in space across his six NASA flights, serving as co-pilot of the first Gemini mission in 1965, commander of a second Gemini flight in 1966, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 in 1969, commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 and commander of the first shuttle flight in 1981... Young was the first man to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to fly aboard Gemini and Apollo capsules and the space shuttle... He also brought a legendary cool nerve to an inherently dangerous job that amazed his compatriots. "I found out from the flight surgeon later on that my heartbeat was 144 at liftoff," Charlie Duke, one of Young's crewmates on the Apollo 16 moon landing mission, said of his reaction to launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket. "John's (heartbeat) was 70".
On one space shuttle flight, two of the ship's three auxiliary power units actually caught on fire, and exploded just minutes after touchdown. But Young always kept his cool. In 2010 Slashdot remembered the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. When it reached orbit, Young surprised his fellow astronaut Gus Grissom by pulling a fresh corned beef sandwich out of his pocket.

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes:
Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts", remembers that Young "used to talk about how if we stay on this planet for too long, something's going to get us, whether it was a super volcano or whatever. He really was a true believer." NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot added that Young's career "spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

In 2012 -- when he was in his 80s -- Young published a memoir titled Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space. "My life has been long, and it has been interesting. It's also been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, challenging work. If I could do it over, I would do it over the very same way.

Space

NASA Tests a Drone To Explore Jupiter's Moon in Antarctica (popularmechanics.com) 65

Three months of research in Antarctica is just the beginning for one Georgia Tech researcher, according to an article shared by schwit1: The waters beneath our planet's ice sheet are fascinating, turning up species few people have ever laid eyes on. But they are not the final target of this chase. Icefin [a 10-foot-long subsea drone] is meant to search for alien life -- a "bug hunt," as some scientists cheerfully call it. It is bound for the icy waters of Jupiter's moon, Europa, possibly as soon as 2030...

The new equipment includes sensors to monitor for organics and measure environmental factors like the presence of dissolved oxygen and levels of acidity, all to see if Europa could (in theory) support life in its subterranean seas... The subsea drone is also smarter than its prototype predecessor, and that high-IQ autonomy would be needed on Europa. The probe must not only operate 400 million miles from Earth but also navigate all by itself under alien ice.

Space

First Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse in 150 Years Coming This Month (space.com) 59

An anonymous reader writes, citing a report: The first eclipse of 2018 will be a lunar one that comes at the very end of the month, on Jan. 31. It will be a total eclipse that involves the second full moon of the month, popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. Such a skywatching event hasn't happened for more than 150 years. The eclipse will take place during the middle of the night, and the Pacific Ocean will be turned toward the moon at the time. Central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and most of Australia will get a fine view of this moon show in the evening sky. Heading farther west into western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the eclipse will already be underway as the moon rises.
Government

People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking (arstechnica.com) 368

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the U.S. If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.

[...] "Despite popular conceptions," the authors point out, "[conspiratorial thinking] is not the sole province of the proverbial nut-job." When mixed in with the sort of motivated reasoning that ideology can, well, motivate, crazed ideas can become relatively mainstream. Witness the number of polls that indicated the majority of Republicans thought Obama wasn't born in the U.S., even after he shared his birth certificate. While something that induces a healthy skepticism of information sources might be expected to help with this, it's certainly not guaranteed, as motivated reasoning has been shown to be capable of overriding education and knowledge on relevant topics.

[...] As a whole, the expected connection held up: "for both conservatives and liberals, more knowledge of the news media system related to decreased endorsement of liberal conspiracies." And, conversely, the people who did agree with conspiracy theories tended to know very little about how the news media operated.

NASA

NASA Advances Missions To Land a Flying Robot on Titan or Snatch a Piece of a Comet (washingtonpost.com) 49

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post: NASA's newest mission will either land a quadcopter-like spacecraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan or collect a sample from the nucleus of a comet. (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.) The two proposals were selected from a group of 12 submitted to the New Frontiers program, which supports mid-level planetary science missions. The first, called Dragonfly, would be an unprecedented project to send a flying robot to an alien moon. Equipped with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, the quadcopter would be able to fly to multiple locations hundreds of miles apart to study the landscape on Titan. This large, cold moon of Saturn features a thick atmosphere and lakes and rivers of liquid methane, and scientists believe that a watery ocean may lurk beneath its frozen crust. [...] The Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return, or CAESAR, mission would circle back to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016. After rendezvousing with the Mount Fuji-size space rock, CAESAR would suck up a sample from its surface and send it back to Earth, where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 285

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
NASA

President Trump Is Sending NASA Back To The Moon (npr.org) 307

President Trump has formally told NASA to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon. From a report: "The directive I'm signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," he said. Standing at the president's side as he signed "Space Policy Directive 1" on Monday was Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two humans to ever walk on the moon, in a mission that took place 45 years ago this week. Since that time, no human has ventured out beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA doesn't even have its own space vehicle, having retired the space shuttles in 2011. Americans currently ride up to the international space station in Russian capsules, though private space taxis are expected to start ferrying them up as soon as next year.
Mars

Boeing CEO Says Boeing Will Beat SpaceX To Mars (space.com) 128

Boeing's CEO says the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Space.com reports: According to Fortune, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking on CNBC today when host Jim Cramer asked whether Boeing or SpaceX would "get a man on Mars first." "Eventually we're going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said, according to Fortune. Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA's giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency's new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a "Deep Space Gateway" near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019. "Do it," Musk tweeted.
Medicine

What It Looks Like When You Fry Your Eye In An Eclipse (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Doctors in New York say a woman in her 20s came in three days after looking at the Aug. 21 eclipse without protective glasses. She had peeked several times, for about six seconds, when the sun was only partially covered by the moon. Four hours later, she started experiencing blurred and distorted vision and saw a central black spot in her left eye. The doctors studied her eyes with several different imaging technologies, described in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, and were able to observe the damage at the cellular level.

"We were very surprised at how precisely concordant the imaged damage was with the crescent shape of the eclipse itself," noted Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in an email to NPR. He says this was the most severely injured patient they saw after the eclipse. All in all, 22 people came to their urgent care clinic with concerns about possible eclipse-related damage, and most of them complained of blurred vision. Of those, only three showed some degree of abnormality in the retina. Two of them had only mild changes, however, and their symptoms have gone away. The young woman described in this case report, at last check, still has not recovered normal vision.
For your viewing pleasure, The Verge has embedded several images of the woman's retinas in their report.
Space

New Evidence Points To Icy Plate Tectonics On Europa (gizmodo.com) 67

According to new research published today in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Europa has what it takes to support plate tectonics. "Using computer models, a team lead by Brown University planetary scientist Brandon Johnson was able to demonstrate the physical feasibility of icy plates driving deep into the icy interior in a processes similar to what's seen on Earth," reports Gizmodo. "Excitingly, this same process could be delivering important minerals to the ocean below, heightening the moon's status a potentially habitable world." From the report: Europa has surface features reminiscent of Earth's mid-ocean ridges. For astronomers, this hinted at geological processes akin to subduction zones, where, on Earth, tectonic plates slide underneath another, sinking deep into the planet's interior. Several years ago, researchers Simon Kattenhorn and Louise Prockter posited this explanation when they noticed that a 20,000 square-kilometer (7,722 square-mile) chunk of ice had mysteriously disappeared from Europa's surface. Their explanation was that Europa's surface, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, is composed of tectonic plates, and that occasionally a plate of ice will sink beneath the other into warmer layers below. But this observational evidence of extension and spreading needed to be supported by geophysical reality. To that end, Johnson's team ran a computer simulation to see if it was possible for ice to sink in this way.

On our planet, subduction is primarily driven by differences in temperature between a descending slab and the surrounding mantle. Dense crustal material features a negative buoyancy that drives it down into the mantle. The Brown University scientists figured a similar thing happens on Europa, but with ice. In the case of Europa, the researchers surmised that the moon has two frozen layers -- an outer lid of very cold ice that sits above a layer of slightly warmer convecting ice. Their models showed that subduction is indeed possible in this alien environment, but only if the outer shell contains varying amounts of salt. This added ingredient provides the necessary density differences for a slab to conduct.

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