StartsWithABang writes If you want to map the entire sky — whether you're looking in the visible, ultraviolet, infrared or microwave, your best bet is to go to space. Only high above the Earth's atmosphere can you map out the entire sky, with your vision unobscured by anything terrestrial. But that costs millions of dollars for the launch alone! What if you've got new technology you want to test? What if you still want to defeat most of the atmosphere? (Which you need to do, for most wavelengths of light.) And what if you want to make observations on large angular scales, something by-and-large impossible from the ground in microwave wavelengths? You launch a balloon! The Spider telescope has just completed its data-taking operations, and is poised to take the next step — beyond Planck and BICEP2 — in understanding the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.
An anonymous reader writes Charles Hard Townes, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died early Tuesday in Oakland. He was 99. "Charlie was a cornerstone of the Space Sciences Laboratory for almost 50 years,” said Stuart Bale, director of the lab and a UC Berkeley professor of physics. “He trained a great number of excellent students in experimental astrophysics and pioneered a program to develop interferometry at short wavelengths. He was a truly inspiring man and a nice guy. We’ll miss him.”
An anonymous reader writes: Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the Earth's atmosphere. It's also the 4th most abundant element in the human body. But where did all the nitrogen on Earth come from? Scientists aren't sure, but they have a new theory. Back when the solar system was just a protoplanetary disk, the ice orbiting the early Sun included ammonia, which has a nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. But there needed to be a way for the nitrogen to get to the developing Earth. That's where Jupiter comes in. During its theorized Grand Tack, where it plunged into the inner solar system and then retreated outward again, it created shock waves in the dust and ice cloud surrounding the sun. These shock waves caused gentle heating of the ammonia ice, which allowed it to melt and react with chromium-bearing metal to form a mineral called carlsbergite. New research (abstract) suggests this mineral was then present when the Earth's accretion happened, supplying much of the nitrogen we would eventually need for life.
An anonymous reader writes: A new study confirms the potential hazard of nearby gamma-ray bursts. It quantifies the probability of an event near Earth, and more generally in the Milky Way and other galaxies over time: "[Evolved] life as it exists on Earth could not take place in almost any galaxy that formed earlier than about five billion years after the Big Bang." This could explain the Fermi's paradox, or why we don't see billion-year-old civilizations all around us.
astroengine writes: Astronomers have found a star system that bears a striking resemblance to our inner solar system. It's a sun-like star that plays host to a system of five small exoplanets — from the size of Mercury to the size of Venus. But there's something very alien about this compact 'solar system'; it formed when the universe was only 20 percent the age it is now, making it the most ancient star system playing host to terrestrial sized worlds discovered to date.
Required Snark writes NASA has funded a study of a geo-sychrounous orbit telescope that uses a half-mile diameter opaque disk to provide images with 1000 times the resolution of the Hubble. It uses diffraction at the edge of the disk to focus light, resulting in a very high quality image. It's named the Aragoscope, after the scientist Francois Arago, who first noticed how a disk affects light waves. "When deployed the Aragoscope will consist of an opaque disk a half mile in diameter parked in geostationary orbit behind which is an orbiting telescope keeping station some tens to hundreds of miles behind that collects the light at the focal point and rectifies it into a high-resolution image. 'The opaque disk of the Aragoscope works in a similar way to a basic lens,' says CU-Boulder doctoral student and team member Anthony Harness. 'The light diffracted around the edge of the circular disk travels the same path length to the center and comes into focus as an image.' He added that, since image resolution increases with telescope diameter, being able to launch such a large, yet lightweight disk would allow astronomers to achieve higher-resolution images than with smaller, traditional space telescopes."
PvtVoid writes Virgin Galactic, following an aggressive schedule to build a replacement for the Spaceship Two which crashed in October, is doing so without partner Scaled Composites, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kevin Mickey, the president of Scaled Composites, confirmed this week that his company would no longer be involved in testing. He said Scaled would still work as a consultant to Virgin Galactic.
An anonymous reader writes Tonight, Asteroid 2004 BL86 will make a pass by the Earth at just 745,000 miles away. This should offer stargazers a great opportunity to see the half-kilometer space rock. CNN has some tips on the best method and time to look. From the article: "The best chance for viewing will be from 8 p.m. ET Monday to 1 a.m. ET Tuesday. Asteroid 2004 BL86 is large, and it will brighten, but nonetheless will not be observable with the naked eye. Some astronomy websites say a pair of binoculars could do the trick, but Sky & Telescope recommends at least a 3- or 4-inch diameter telescope. 'One good technique for fast-movers like 2004 BL86 is to identify and lock onto a star along its path,' Sky & Telescope senior editor Kelly Beatty says. 'Then just watch at the time that the asteroid is predicted to pass by that particular star.'"
StartsWithABang writes The history of the Universe happened in a well-known order: inflation ends, matter wins out over antimatter, the electroweak symmetry breaks, antimatter annihilates away, atomic nuclei form, then neutral atoms, stars, galaxies, and eventually us. But scientists and science magazines often publish timelines of the Universe with incredibly precise times describing when these various events occur. Here's how we arrive at those values, along with the rarely-publicized uncertainties.
hypnosec writes The US Air Force and private space flight company SpaceX have settled their dispute involving the military's expendable rocket program, thereby paving the way for SpaceX to join the spy satellite launch program known as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). The settlement opens doors for SpaceX to compete with United Launch Alliance (ULA) for launch of spy satellites. ULA is a joint Boeing-Lockheed venture – the only private player to have received clearance for launching black ops satellites.
SternisheFan (2529412) writes with this story at the Verge about an approach being considered by NASA to overcome some of the difficulties in moving a wheeled or multi-legged ground vehicle around the surface of Mars, which has proven to be a difficult task. Rover teams still have a tough time with the Martian surface even though they're flush with terrestrial data. The alien surface is uneven, and ridges and valleys make navigating the terrain difficult. The newest solution proposed by JPL is the Mars Helicopter, an autonomous drone that could 'triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day,' according to NASA. The helicopter would fly ahead of a rover when its view is blocked and send Earth-bound engineers the right data to plan the rover's route.
Taco Cowboy writes with this excerpt from Space.com: On Monday (Jan. 19), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a call for proposals for a robotic space mission that the two organizations will develop jointly. "The goal of the present Call is to define a scientific space mission to be implemented by ESA and CAS as a cooperative endeavor between the European and Chinese scientific communities," ESA officials wrote in a statement Monday. "The mission selected as an outcome of the present Joint Call will follow a collaborative approach through all the phases: study, definition, implementation, operations and scientific exploitation." The call envisions a low-budget mission, saying that ESA and CAS are each prepared to contribute about 53 million euros (U.S. $61.5 million at current exchange rates). The spacecraft must weigh less than 661 lbs. (300 kilograms) at launch and be designed to operate for at least two to three years, ESA officials wrote in the call for proposals. All proposals are due by March 16, and the peer-review process will start in April. Mission selection is expected to occur in late 2015, followed by six years of development, with a launch in 2021.
An anonymous reader writes Details have emerged on the new UHD Blu-ray spec and players set to start shipping this summer. UHD promises resolutions 4X greater than Blu-ray 1080p as well as much higher data rates, enhanced color space and more audio options. But, will consumers care, and will they be willing to upgrade their HDTV's, AV Receivers, and Blu-ray players to adopt a new format whose benefits may only be realized on ultra large displays or close viewing distances? The article makes the interesting point that UHD isn't synonymous with 4K, even if both handily beat the resolution of most household displays.
sciencehabit writes: The first scientific results from Rosetta at comet 67P have been published, and they detail a surprising diversity of features on the 4-kilometer-long duck-shaped comet. The discoveries include images from Rosetta's main science camera, OSIRIS, which reveal 67P to be a far more varied place than anyone expected. The article summarizes a trove of scientific papers that were published today about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The best part? They're all freely available.
lightbox32 sends news that scientists have found a way to slow individual photons within a beam of light. Their work was published today in Science Express (abstract, pre-print). The researchers liken a light beam to a team of cyclists — while the group as a whole moves at a constant speed, individual riders may occasionally drop back or move forward. They decided to focus on the individual photons, rather than measuring the beam as a whole. The researchers imposed a particular pattern on a photon, then raced it against another photon, and found that the two arrived at their destination at slightly different times. The work demonstrates that, after passing the light beam through a mask, photons move more slowly through space. Crucially, this is very different to the slowing effect of passing light through a medium such as glass or water, where the light is only slowed during the time it is passing through the material—it returns to the speed of light after it comes out the other side. The effect of passing the light through the mask is to limit the top speed at which the photons can travel.
hypnosec writes Stargazers are in for a treat: they will be able to witness a rare astronomical event early tomorrow morning (January 24, 2015) where shadows of three of Jupiter's largest moons — Io, Europa, and Callisto — will fall upon Jupiter simultaneously. Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will provide a live online broadcast on its Livestream channel. It will begin on January 24 at 0430 GMT (January 23 at 11:30 PM EST, 8:30 PM PST) and end at 0700 GMT (2:00 AM EST, 11:00 PM PST). They've also posted a short animated video of how the event will appear.
StartsWithABang writes As the Hubble Space Telescope gets set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of opening its eyes to the Universe, it's important to realize that the first four years of operations were kind of a disaster. It wasn't until they corrected the flawed primary mirror and installed an upgraded camera — the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) — that the Universe truly came into focus. From 1993 to 2009, this workhorse camera literally changed our view of the Universe, and we're pushing even past those limits today.
StartsWithABang writes The US Senate just voted on whether climate change is a hoax, knowing full well that debates or votes don't change what is or isn't scientifically true or valid. Nevertheless, debates have always been a thing in science, and they do have their place: in raising what points would be needed to validate, robustly confirm or refute competing explanations, theories or ideas. The greatest scientific debate in all of history — along with its conclusions — illustrates exactly this.
KentuckyFC writes Revolutions in science often come from the study of seemingly unresolvable paradoxes. So an interesting exercise is to list the paradoxes associated with current ideas in science. One cosmologist has done just that by exploring the paradoxes associated with well-established ideas and observations about the structure and origin of the universe. Perhaps the most dramatic of these paradoxes comes from the idea that the universe must be expanding. What's curious about this expansion is that space, and the vacuum associated with it, must somehow be created in this process. And yet nobody knows how this can occur. What's more, there is an energy associated with any given volume of the universe. If that volume increases, the inescapable conclusion is that the energy must increase as well. So much for conservation of energy. And even the amount of energy associated with the vacuum is a puzzle with different calculations contradicting each other by 120 orders of magnitude. Clearly, anybody who can resolve these problems has a bright future in science but may also end up tearing modern cosmology apart.
evanak writes TIROS was NASA's Television Infrared Observation Satellite. It launched in April 1960. One of the ground tracking stations was located at the U.S. Army's secret "Camps Evans" Signals Corps electronics R&D laboratory. That laboratory (originally a Marconi wireless telegraph lab) became the InfoAge Science Center in the 2000s. [Monday], after many years of restoration, InfoAge volunteers (led by Princeton U. professor Dan Marlowe) successfully received data from space. The dish is now operating for the first time in 40 years! The received data are in very raw form, but there is a clear peak riding on top of the noise background at 0.4 MHz (actually 1420.4 MHz), which is the well-known 21 cm radiation from the Milky Way. The dish was pointing south at an elevation of 45 degrees above the horizon.