StartsWithABang writes: It's one of the cardinal laws of physics and the underlying principle of Einstein's relativity itself: the fact that there's a universal speed limit to the motion of anything through space and time, the speed of light, or c. Light itself will always move at this speed (as well as certain other phenomena, like the force of gravity), while anything with mass — like all known particles of matter and antimatter — will always move slower than that. But if you want something to travel faster-than-light, you aren't, as you might think, relegated to the realm of science fiction. There are real, physical phenomena that do exactly this, and yet are perfectly consistent with relativity.
An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Air Force has given private rocket company SpaceX clearance to launch military satellites into orbit. This disrupts the lock that Boeing and Lockheed Martin have had on military launches for almost a decade. SpaceX will get its first opportunity to bid for such launches in June, when the Air Force posts a contract to launch GPS satellites.
An anonymous reader writes: Many space-related projects are currently focusing on Mars. SpaceX wants to build a colony there, NASA is looking into base design, and Mars One is supposedly picking astronauts for a mission. Because of this, we've been reading a lot about how we could live on Mars. An article at Popular Science reminds us of all the easy ways to die there. "Barring any complications with the spacecraft's hardware or any unintended run-ins with space debris, there's still a big killer lurking out in space that can't be easily avoided: radiation. ... [And] with so little atmosphere surrounding Mars, gently landing a large amount of weight on the planet will be tough. Heavy objects will pick up too much speed during the descent, making for one deep impact. ... Mars One's plan is to grow crops indoors under artificial lighting. According to the project's website, 80 square meters of space will be dedicated to plant growth within the habitat; the vegetation will be sustained using suspected water in Mars' soil, as well as carbon dioxide produced by the initial four-member crew. However, analysis conducted by MIT researchers last year (PDF) shows that those numbers just don't add up."
An anonymous reader writes: After a pair of high profile launch failures in the past few months, Russian space agency Roscosmos is making headlines again: this time for corruption. A public spending watchdog reported that the organization had misused 92 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) in 2014 alone. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said their space efforts have been undermined by rampant corruption. "We have uncovered acts of fraud, abuse of authority (and) document forgery. With such a level of moral decay, one should not be surprised at the high accident rate." He also said Roscosmos is to be "abolished," and replaced by a state corporation of the same name by the end of the year. "In its new, corporate identity, Roscosmos will be responsible not only for setting mission goals but managing wages for space industry workers and modernizing production facilities."
StartsWithABang writes: At the center of almost every galaxy is a supermassive black hole (SMBH); at the center of almost every cluster is a supermassive galaxy with some of the largest SMBHs in the Universe. And every once in a while, a galactocentric black hole will become active, emitting tremendous amounts of radiation out into the Universe as it devours matter. This radiation can cut across the spectrum, from the X-ray down to the radio. At the heart of MS 0735.6+7421, there's a >10^10 solar mass black hole that appears to have been active for hundreds of millions of years, something unheard of!
An anonymous reader writes: Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Astronomers have uncovered surprising new clues about a large, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before. The star is so strange in fact that astronomers have nicknamed it "Nasty 1," a play on its catalog name of NaSt1. Wolf-Rayet stars like NaSt1 are typically large, rapidly evolving stellar bodies that form by shedding their hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing a bright hot, helium-burning core. Nasty 1 is unique because it contains a disk like structure. "We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star forming from a binary interaction," said Jon Mauerhan of UC Berkeley, lead author on the new Nasty 1 paper. "There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less."
An anonymous reader writes: The Russian space program has experienced numerous accidents and delays recently, leading Indian officials to call into question its long term viability. Now India has decided to pull out of a partnership with Russia for a mission to the moon. According to the Examiner: "Previously, India was scheduled to launch a Russian lander on one of its rockets and send it to the lunar South Pole. Now, according to a story in Russia and India Report, India will go it alone, building its own lander to touch down on the lunar surface within the next few years.
StartsWithABang writes: The Universe had two periods where light was abundant, separated by the cosmic dark ages. The first came at the moment of the hot Big Bang, as the Universe was flooded with (among the matter, antimatter and everything else imaginable) a sea of high-energy photons, including a large amount of visible light. As the Universe expanded and cooled, eventually the cosmic microwave background was emitted, leaving behind the barely visible, cooling photons. It took between 50 and 100 million years for the first stars to turn on, so in between these two epochs of the Universe being flooded with light, we had the dark ages. Yet the dark ages may not be totally invisible, as the forbidden spin-flip-transition of hydrogen may illuminate this time period after all.
theodp writes: "There you are watching another death on video," writes the NY Times' Teju Cole. "In the course of ordinary life — at lunch or in bed, in a car or in the park — you are suddenly plunged into someone else's crisis, someone else's horror. It arrives, absurdly, in the midst of banal things. That is how, late one afternoon in April, I watched Walter Scott die. The footage of his death, taken by a passer-by, had just been published online on the front page of The New York Times. I watched it, sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, and was stunned by it." Cole continues, "For most of human history, to see someone die, you had to be there. Depictions of death, if there were any, came later, at a certain remove of time and space." Disturbing as they may be (Cole notes he couldn't bear to watch the ISIS beheading videos), such images may ultimately change things for the better. Is it better to publish them than sweep them under the carpet?
StartsWithABang writes: When it comes to risk assessment, there's one type that humans are notoriously bad at: the very low-frequency but high-consequence risks and rewards. It's why so many of us are so eager to play the lottery, and simultaneously why we're catastrophically afraid of ebola and plane crashes, when we're far more likely to die from something mundane, like getting hit by a truck. One of the examples where science and this type of fear-based fallacy intersect is the science of asteroid strikes. With all we know about asteroids today, here's the actual risk to humanity, and it's much lower than anyone cares to admit.
New submitter gubol123 writes with news that India is close to launching its own space shuttle for the first time. Their space program, ISRO, is planning the shuttle's first test flight for some time in July or August. The unmanned shuttle will fly to a height of approximately 70 kilometers before splashing down in the Bay of Bengal. Oddly, the vehicle itself probably won't be recovered. When it lands in the water, it will sink, and there are no plans to try to bring it back to the surface. The most important obstacles are surviving re-entry and simply staying intact during splashdown. Scientists and ISRO engineers are hoping the shuttle program, when finished, will drop the cost of placing objects in orbit by a factor of 10.
sciencehabit writes: Astronomers have long believed that Mars snatched its two moons — Phobos and Deimos — from the asteroid belt. That would explain why the objects look like asteroids—dark, crater-pocked, and potato-shaped. But computer simulations by two independent teams of astronomers (abstract 1, abstract 2) indicated that Mars's moons formed much like ours did, after a giant space rock smashed into the planet and sprayed debris into orbit.
An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Navy is not pleased with the progress it has made on data center consolidation and plans to change strategies. "Later this year, we will make an organizational change to our approach to data center consolidation. The Data Center and Application Optimization (DCAO) program office will move from under Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) headquarters to under Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS) as a separate entity or program office," said John Zangardi, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for command, control, computers, intelligence, information operations and space and acting chief information officer. The secretary added that over the past three years, the U.S. Department of the Navy had consolidated 290 IT systems and applications at 45 national sites.
mpicpp writes: The United States Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane will carry a NASA experiment into orbit when it launches on its next mystery mission Wednesday. The liftoff will begin the reusable space plane's fourth mission, which is known as OTV-4 (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4). Since it's classified it's not entirely clear what the space plane will be doing once it leaves Earth Wednesday. This has led to some speculation that the vehicle might be a weapon, but officials have repeatedly refuted that notion, saying X-37B flights simply test a variety of new technologies. The X-37B looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle. The robotic, solar-powered space plane is about 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 meters) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and lands horizontally, on a runway.
StartsWithABang writes: Get a supermassive black hole feeding on matter, particularly on large amounts of cool, dense gas, and you're likely to get a quasar: a luminous, active galaxy emitting radiation from the radio all the way up through the X-ray. Our best understanding and observations indicate that these objects should be rare, transient, and isolated; no more than two have ever been found close together before. Until this discovery, that is, where we just found four within a million light years of one another, posing a problem for our current theories of structure formation in the Universe.
__roo writes: In an effort to detect crumbling infrastructure before it causes damage and costs lives, the European Space Agency is working with the UK's University of Nottingham to monitor the movements of large structures as they happen using satellite navigation sensors. The team uses highly sensitive satnav receivers that transmit real-time data to detect movements as small as 1 cm combined with historical Earth observation satellite data. By placing sensors at key locations on the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland, they detected stressed structural members and unexpected deformations.
StartsWithABang writes: When it comes to the farthest thing we can see in the Universe, that's the Cosmic Microwave Background, or the leftover glow from the Big Bang, emitted when the Universe was a mere 380,000 years old. But what, exactly, does this mean? Does it mean that we're seeing the "edge" of the Universe? Does it mean that there's nothing to see, farther back beyond it? Does it mean that, as time goes on, we're going to be able to see farther back in time and space? The answers are no, no, and yes, respectively. If we want to see farther than ever before, we've got two options: either wait for more time to pass, or get moving and build that cosmic neutrino background detector.
An anonymous reader writes: Space policy experts are still arguing where American astronauts should go once they venture into deep space. However, there is widespread agreement that once they get there they should be prepared to stay for longer than just a few hours or days, as was the case during the Apollo missions to the moon. Taking all the material to set up habitats, the astronauts' homes away from home, would tend to be expensive. Toward the end of lowering the cost of long duration space travel, NASA has announced the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, in partnership with America Makes, as part of the ongoing Centennial Challenge program.
SpankiMonki sends word that the United Arab Emirates has announced plans to launch a Mars mission in July, 2020. They want to send a probe (named "al-Amal",or "Hope") that will orbit the Red Planet for several years. It will analyze the Martian atmosphere, observing clouds and dust storms to help scientists figure out how water gradually escaped from Mars over a long time scale. [A]fter being inserted into an elliptical 55-hour orbit in the first quarter of 2021, Hope will carry out its nominal two-year science mission at altitudes ranging between 22,000 to 44,000 kilometers. From there, the mission will investigate how the lower and upper levels of the Martian atmosphere are connected. One goal is to create the first global picture of how the Martian atmosphere changes throughout the day and between seasons.
TheRealHocusLocus writes: The Emergency Asteroid Defence Project has launched a crowdfunded IndieGoGo campaign to help produce a set of working blueprints for a two-stage HAIV, or Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle. This HAIV paper (PDF) describes the use of a leading kinetic impactor to make a crater — a following nuclear warhead would detonate in the crater for maximum energy transfer. The plans would be available for philanthropists to bring to prototype stage, while your friendly local nuclear weapon state supplies the warhead. This may be a best-fit solution. But just ask Morgan Freeman: these strategies could fail. What — if any — backup strategy could be integrated into an HAIV mission as a fail-safe in case the primary fails? Here is a review of strategies (some fanciful, few deployable) if we have to divert an asteroid with very short lead time. A gentle landing on the object may not be feasible, and we must rely on things that push hard or go boom. For example: detonating nearby to ablate surface materials and create recoil in the direction we wish to nudge. Also, with multiple warheads and precise timing, would it be possible to create a "shaped" nuclear explosion in space?