The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
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Scientists used rocks and soil collected by the Apollo 14 moonwalkers in 1971 to calculate the age of the moon. It turns out that it is much older than scientists suspected, coming in at 4.51 billion years old. ABC News reports: A research team reported Wednesday that the moon formed within 60 million years of the birth of the solar system. Previous estimates ranged within 100 million years, all the way out to 200 million years after the solar system's creation, not quite 4.6 billion years ago. The scientists conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the mineral zircon extracted from Apollo 14 lunar samples. The pieces of zircon were minuscule -- no bigger than a grain of sand. The moon was created from debris knocked off from Earth, which itself is thought to be roughly 4.54 billion years old. Some of the eight zircon samples were used in a previous study, also conducted at UCLA, that utilized more limited techniques. Melanie Barboni, lead author of the study from the University of California, Los Angeles, said she is studying more zircons from Apollo 14 samples, but doesn't expect it to change her estimate of 4.51 billion years for the moon's age, possibly 4.52 billion years at the most. The study was published today in the journal Science.
On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: A series of cosmic collisions may have spawned multiple moonlets that morphed into the one big moon we know today. Rather than one giant impact that knocked off part of early Earth and created the moon, a number of smaller collisions may have produced lots of mini-moons, Israeli scientists reported Monday. And those mini-moons, over millions of years, may have clumped together to make one large one. The researchers conducted nearly 1,000 computer simulations and estimate about 20 impacts could do the job. They say that would explain why the moon seems to be composed of material from Earth, rather than some other planet, too. It's actually an old theory revitalized now by the Weizmann Institute of Science's Raluca Rufu in Rehovot, Israel, and his team. Their findings were published in Nature Geoscience.
China has revealed some ambitious plans for space domination in the 2020s. On Tuesday, China set out its plans to become the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, in around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020. Phys.Org reports: "To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," read a white paper setting out the country's space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting edge scientific research. The white paper released by the information office of China's Cabinet points to the growing ambitions of China's already rapidly advancing space program. Although the white paper doesn't mention it, China's eventual goal is the symbolic feat of landing an astronaut on the moon. The white paper reiterated China's plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, saying this would explore and bring back samples from the red planet, explore the Jupiter system and "conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life." The paper says the Chang'e-4 lunar probe will help shed light on the formation and evolution of the moon.
schwit1 quotes a report from Behind The Black: A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error. CollectSPACE.com reports: "Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as 'a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.' The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. 'She is entitled to possession of the bag,' Marten wrote in his order." This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later. Space.com's report adds: "The zippered cloth pouch, which was labeled in bold black letters 'Lunar Sample Return,' was used on July 20, 1969, as an 'outer decontamination bag' to protect the first moon rocks retrieved from the surface of the moon as they were delivered to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Carlson purchased the bag for $995 in February 2015, at a Texas auction held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. The bag had been forfeited along with other artifacts found in the home of Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas."
Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office compiled nearly 3,000 years of celestial records and found that with every passing century, the day on Earth lengthens by two milliseconds as the planet's rotation gradually winds down. The Guardian reports: The split second gained since the first world war may not seem much, but the time it takes for a sunbeam to travel 600km towards Earth can cost an Olympic gold medal, as the American Tim McKee found out when he lost to Sweden's Gunnar Larsson in 1972. For those holding out for a whole extra hour a day, be prepared for a long wait. Barring any change in the rate of slowing down, an Earth day will not last 25 hours for about two million centuries more. Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office gathered historical accounts of eclipses and other celestial events from 720BC to 2015. The oldest records came from Babylonian clay tablets written in cuneiform, with more added from ancient Greek texts, such as Ptolemy's 2nd century Almagest, and scripts from China, medieval Europe and the Arab dominions. The ancient records captured the times and places that people witnessed various stages of solar and lunar eclipses, while documents from 1600AD onwards described lunar occultations, when the moon passed in front of particular stars and blocked them from view. To find out how the Earth's rotation has varied over the 2,735-year-long period, the researchers compared the historical records with a computer model that calculated where and when people would have seen past events if Earth's spin had remained constant. The astronomers found that Earth's spin would have slowed down even more had it not been for a counteracting process. Since the end of the most recent ice age, land masses that were once buried under slabs of frozen water have been unloaded and sprung back into place. The shift caused the Earth to be less oblate -- or squished -- on its axis. And just as a spinning ice skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms, so the Earth spins faster when its poles are less compressed. Changes in the world's sea levels and electromagnetic forces between Earth's core and its rocky mantle had effects on Earth's spin too, according to the scientists' report in Proceedings of the Royal Society.
The price of Bitcoin could hit more than $2,000 in 2017 driven by expectations that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may introduce economic stimulus policies, which could send inflation soaring and propel the dollar to record highs, a report from Saxo Bank claims. An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Bitcoin is currently trading around $754.51, according to CoinDesk data. A handle of over $2,000 would represent 165 percent appreciation. During his election campaign Trump has talked about an increase in fiscal spending. Saxo Bank's note said that this could increase the roughly $20 trillion of U.S. national debt and triple the current budget deficit from approximately $600 billion to $1.2-1.8 trillion, or some 6-10 percent of the country's current $18.6 trillion economy. As a result, the economy will grow and inflation will "sky rocket," forcing the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at a faster pace and causing the U.S. dollar "to hit the moon." When inflation rises the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates to bring it under control. This causes the dollar to appreciate because it would be seen as an attractive currency for foreign investors.
Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday morning that it will provide a "humanitarian medical evacuation flight" from the South Pole for an "ailing" Buzz Aldrin. BusinessInsider adds: Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, joining Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. He has since become an author and advocate for crewed missions to Mars. He is 86, and no further information is available as to his condition. The NSF's statement said that an NSF plane will fly Aldrin from the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. At that point ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard will haul him to New Zealand "as soon as possible."
schwit1 quotes a report from Popular Mechanics: A single underground deposit of ice on Mars contains about as much water as there is in Michigan's Lake Superior, according to new research from NASA. The deposit rests in the mid-northern latitudes of the Red Planet, specifically in the Utopia Planitia region. Discovered by the Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARD) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the deposit is "more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico," according to a NASA press release. It ranges in thickness from about 260 feet to about 560 feet, and has a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, with what appears to be dust or larger rocky particles mixed in as well. None of the ice is exposed to the surface. At various points the dirt covering it is in between 3 and 33 feet thick.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Pluto's most iconic feature -- its "icy heart" -- may have been responsible for tipping the dwarf planet over. Scientists believe the 600-mile-wide region of frozen plains known as Sputnik Planitia gained enough mass over the years, causing Pluto to tilt to its current orientation. And that could mean there's a subsurface ocean lurking underneath the dwarf planet. The cracks and faults on Pluto's surface tell the story of its rollover, according to two new studies published today in Nature. Researchers used computer models to simulate Pluto's reorientation, which would have put a lot of stress on the crust and created these cracks. Those models match up pretty well with the patterns of canyons and mountains that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft saw when it flew by Pluto last year. As for how the flip occurred, the two Nature studies offer complementary arguments. Isamu Matsuyama's study says that the low-lying Sputnik Planitia filled up with a bunch of nitrogen ice, gaining mass that pushed Pluto over. But the second study says the nitrogen ice wasn't enough to completely change Pluto's orientation. Even more weight was needed, and a dense ocean lurking just underneath Sputnik Planitia would have been enough to do the trick. Nimmo's study is just further evidence that liquid may be teaming underneath Pluto, making this dwarf planet one of a growing group of objects in our Solar System that harbor oceans. Sputnik Planitia is located in a very special place on Pluto, right next to something called a tidal axis -- the imaginary line that connects Pluto and its largest moon Charon. This axis dictates how Pluto moves if its mass changes. If you were to add extra weight to a certain point on Pluto, the entire dwarf planet would reorient itself so that the weighted point would end up next to this axis.
A lot of questions are emerging about Facebook's role in this year's election cycle, especially given the proliferation of sensationalistic and even outright fake news stories, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded. From a report on Fortune: "I think the idea that fake news on Facebook -- of which it's a very small amount of the content -- influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," he said on Thursday at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif., just two days after Donald Trump was elected president, according to media reports. "There have been hoaxes on the Internet, there were hoaxes before," he said. "We do our best to make it so that people can report that, and as I said before, we can show people the most meaningful content we can."
On Monday, November 14th, you may be able to see the biggest and closest supermoon Earth has seen since 1948. A "supermoon" is a full moon that "coincides with the lunar orb's closest approach to Earth, or perigee." National Geographic explains how you can experience one of the best lunar spectacles in decades: This month, the moon officially reaches perigee at 6:21 a.m. ET (11:23 UT) on November 14, when it will be just 221,524 miles from our planet, as measured from the center of both Earth and the moon. The moon reaches its full phase only two and a half hours later, at 8:52 a.m. ET (13:52 UT) on November 14. Earth hasn't been buzzed this close by a full moon since January 26, 1948, when our lunar companion was a mere 30 miles closer than this month's supermoon. Enjoy the sky show while it lasts, because the full moon won't get this close to us again until November 25, 2034. And the absolute closest full moon to Earth this century will occur on December 6, 2052, when our celestial neighbor will be just 221,472 miles away. Globally, the best time to catch this sky event is just after your local sunset on November 14, as the silvery orb rises in the east. For North Americans, the lunar disk will appear to be nearly equally full and impressive on the nights of November 13 and 14, so if you get clouded out on the first night, you'll have another chance to catch the epic sky show. The best view will be in the early morning close to dawn, as the moon sets in the west before the sun rises in the east. By the numbers, the November full moon will appear to be 7 percent larger than average and nearly 15 percent brighter.
hackingbear writes from a report via Space.com: China launched its second new rocket in the year. The Long March 5 rocket, lifted off from the Wenchang launch center on Hainan Island, off China's southern coast, at 8:43 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT; 8:43 p.m. Beijing time), carrying to orbit an experimental satellite called Shijian-17, which is designed to test electric-propulsion technology. Capable of a 25 metric ton payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO), Long March 5 is among the most powerful rockets in service. Besides the scheduled launch of China's upcoming space station, the Long March 5 will also loft Chang'e-5, a robotic sample-return mission to the moon. Chang'e-5 is currently scheduled to lift off sometime next year, Chinese space officials have said.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: After more than 20 years of construction, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is complete and, following in-depth testing, the largest-ever space telescope is expected to launch within two years, NASA officials announced today (Nov. 2). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hosted a news conference to announce the milestone this morning at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, overlooking the 18 large mirrors that will collect infrared light, sheltered behind a tennis-court-size sun shield. JWST is considered the successor to NASA's iconic Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope will be much more powerful than even Hubble for two main reasons, Mather said at the conference. First, it will be the biggest telescope mirror to fly in space. "You can see this beautiful, gold telescope is seven times the collecting area of the Hubble telescope," Mather said. And second, it is designed to collect infrared light, which Hubble is not very sensitive to. Earth's atmosphere glows in the infrared, so such measurements can't be made from the ground. Hubble emits its own heat, which would obscure infrared readings. JWST will run close to absolute zero in temperature and rest at a point in space called the Lagrange Point 2, which is directly behind Earth from the sun's perspective. That way, Earth can shield the telescope from the sun's infrared emission, and the sun shield can protect the telescope from both bodies' heat. The telescope's infrared view will pierce through obscuring cosmic dust to reveal the universe's first galaxies and spy on newly forming planetary systems. It also will be sensitive enough to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets that pass in front of their stars, perhaps to search for signs of life, Mather said. The telescope would be able to see a bumblebee a moon's distance away, he added -- both in reflected light and in the body heat the bee emitted. Its mirrors are so smooth that if you stretched the array to the size of the U.S., the hills and valleys of irregularity would be only a few inches high, Mather said.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: NASA on Tuesday took a tentative step toward contracting with private companies to send scientific payloads to the surface of the Moon, beginning as early as next year. The space agency hasn't committed to funding these projects yet, but this may be a signal the agency is interested in a wider program to explore the Moon. The agency released a request for information (RFI) for a "Small Lunar Surface Payload" program that recognizes the ability of several US companies to develop robots to land on the Moon. The timing coincides with the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which requires entrants to land a small spacecraft on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2017. "NASA is asking for information about small instruments that could be placed on small lunar landers, and our interest is that we want to address our strategic knowledge gaps," said John Guidi, deputy director of the advanced exploration systems division within NASA's human spaceflight division. Those knowledge gaps -- which NASA is studying to increase the effectiveness and improve the design of robotic and human space exploration missions to the Moon -- include understanding the availability of resources, such as water ice, as well as better understanding how the lunar environment will affect human life and the ability to work and live on the lunar surface for long periods of time. By using low-cost private launchers and small, privately developed payloads, the space agency hopes to find answers to some of these research questions within its limited exploration budget. One of the private companies interested in providing delivery services, Moon Express, responded to the government's proposal with one of its own on Tuesday. The US company announced a program to provide $1.5 million in cash and services to support private payloads that NASA selects to fly to the Moon. Effectively, the company will be offering its services at a discount, providing up to $500,000 in funding for each instrument NASA chooses to fly on Moon Express' first three spacecraft.
Elon Musk of SpaceX wants to settle humans on Mars. Some talk about taking the Moon Village route. But Jeff Bezos has a different kind of off-Earth home in mind when he talks about having millions of people living and working in space. His long-range vision focuses on a decades-old concept for huge artificial habitats that are best known today as O'Neill cylinders. From a report on GeekWire (edited and condensed): The concept was laid out in 1976 in a classic book by physicist Gerard O'Neill, titled "The High Frontier." The idea is to create cylinder-shaped structures in outer space, and give them enough of a spin that residents on the inner surface of the cylinder could live their lives in Earth-style gravity. The habitat's interior would be illuminated either by reflected sunlight or sunlike artificial light. Bezos referred to his long-term goal of having millions of people living and working in space, as well as his enabling goal of creating the 'heavy lifting infrastructure' to make that happen. In Bezos' view, dramatically reducing the cost of access to space is a key step toward those goals. "Then we get to see Gerard O'Neill's ideas start to come to life, and many of the other ideas from science fiction," Bezos said. "The dreamers come first. It's always the science-fiction guys: They think of everything first, and then the builders come along and they make it happen. But it takes time." For Musk, the prime driver behind settling people on Mars is to provide a backup plan for humanity in the event of a planetwide catastrophe -- an asteroid strike, for example, or environmental ruin, or a species-killing pandemic. Bezos sees a different imperative at work: humanity's growing need for energy. "We need to go into space if we want to continue growing civilization," he explained. "If you take baseline energy usage on Earth and compound it at just 3 percent per year for less than 500 years, you have to cover the entire surface of the Earth in solar cells. That's just not going to happen. [...] I predict that in the next few hundred years, all heavy industry will move off planet. It will be just way more convenient to do it in space, where you have better access to resources, better access to 24/7 solar power," he said last weekend. "Solar power on Earth is not that great, because the planet shades us half the time. In space, you get solar power all the time. So there'll be a lot of advantages to doing heavy manufacturing there, and Earth will end up zoned residential and light industry. [...] We want to go to space to save the Earth. I don't like the 'Plan B' idea that we want to go to space so we have a backup planet. ... We have sent probes to every planet in this solar system, and believe me, this is the best planet. There is no doubt. This is the one that you want to protect."
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the last bit of data from its 2015 flyby of Pluto. The picture -- one of a sequence of shots of Pluto and its big moon, Charon -- arrived earlier this week at Mission Control in Maryland. It took more than five hours for the image to reach Earth from New Horizons, some 3 billion miles away. New Horizons swooped past Pluto on July 14, 2015. It's now headed to an even smaller, frozen orb in the far reaches of the solar system. That close encounter is targeted for 2019. Mission managers opted to save all the Pluto data on New Horizons' digital recorders, in order to maximize observing time. Only the highest priority sets of information were sent back in the days before and after the flyby, providing humanity's first up-close look at Pluto. It wasn't until September 2015 when the real data transmission began. In all, more than 50 gigabits of data were relayed over the past 15 months to Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The final data arrived Tuesday, and NASA announced the safe arrival Thursday.
If you happen to walk through the Museum of Modern Art in New York between December to March of next year, you may see 176 emoji on display next to Van Gogh and Picasso. On Wednesday, the museum announced that Shigetaka Kurita's original pictographs would be added to its collection. Los Angeles Times reports: Nearly two decades ago, Shigetaka Kurita was given the task of designing simple pictographs that could replace Japanese words for the growing number of cellphone users communicating with text messages. Kurita, who was working for the Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo at the time, came up with 176 of them, including oddities like a rocking horse, two kinds of umbrellas (one open, one closed) and five different phases of the moon. He called them emojis. An estimated 74% of Americans now use emojis every day, nudging the written word to the side in favor of a medium that can succinctly and playfully convey emotions in a society often more adept at texting than talking. That marriage of design and utility prompted the art world to take notice. Museum officials say emojis are the modern-day answer to an age-old tradition of communicating with pictures. "Emojis as a concept go back in the centuries, to ideograms, hieroglyphics and other graphic characters, enabling us to draw this beautiful arch that covers all of human history," said Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at MoMA. "There is nothing more modern than timeless concepts such as these."