Science

Virgin Galactic flies its first astronauts to the edge of space, taking one step closer to space tourism

Virgin Galactic completed its longest rocket-powered flight ever on Thursday, taking a step ahead in the nascent business of space tourism. The two pilots on board Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft Unity became the company’s first astronauts. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was on hand to watch the historic moment. Virgin Galactic said the test flight reached an altitude of 51.4 miles, or nearly 83 kilometers. The U.S. military and NASA consider pilots who have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts. Test pilots in 2004 were awarded a commercial astronaut badge by the Federal Aviation Administration for flying a previous, experimental iteration of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft design. Lifted by the jet-powered mothership Eve, the spacecraft Unity took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert. Upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet, the carrier aircraft released Unity. The two-member crew of Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay then piloted the spacecraft in a roaring burn which lasted 60 seconds. The flight pushed Unity to a speed of Mach 2.9, nearly three times the speed of sound, as it screamed into a climb toward the edge of space. After performing a slow backflip in microgravity, Unity turned and glided back to land at Mojave. This was the company’s fourth rocket-powered flight of its test program. Unity is the name of the spacecraft built by The Spaceship Company, which Branson also owns. This rocket design is officially known as SpaceShipTwo (SS2). Unity also carried four NASA-funded payloads on this mission. The agency said the four technology experiments “will collect valuable data needed to mature the technologies for use on future missions.” “Inexpensive access to suborbital space greatly benefits the technology research and broader spaceflight communities,” said Ryan Dibley, NASA’s flight opportunities campaign manager, in a statement. The spacecraft underwent extensive engine testing and seven glide tests before Virgin Galactic said it was ready for a powered test flight — a crucial milestone before the company begins sending tourists to the edge of the atmosphere. Each of the previous three test flights were successful in pushing the spacecraft’s limits farther.

Very cool!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

Voyager 2 probe moves into interstellar space

Eleven billion miles from Earth, NASA’s long-lived Voyager 2 probe, still beaming back data 41 years after its launch in 1977, has finally moved into interstellar space, scientists revealed Monday, joining its sister ship Voyager 1 in the vast, uncharted realm between the stars. Voyager 2 moved past the boundary of the heliosphere, the protective bubble defined by the sun’s magnetic field and electrically charged solar wind, on Nov. 5. The transition was marked by a sharp decline in the number of charged particles detected by the spacecraft’s plasma science experiment, or PLS. The instrument has not detected any signs of the solar wind since then. Three other instruments measured corresponding changes in cosmic rays, low-energy particles and magnetic field strength. At Voyager 2’s enormous distance from the sun, it took 16-and-a-half hours for the data to make its way back to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Voyager 1 crossed the boundary of the heliosphere, a transition zone known as the heliopause, in 2012. But Voyager 1’s plasma detector stopped working in 1980, and the new data from Voyager 2 provides fresh insights into the nature of the boundary between interstellar space and the sun’s magnetic and electrical influence. “Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in a statement. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.” Voyager 2 was launched in August 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, which explored Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s large moon Titan before heading out into the depths of the solar system. Voyager 2 flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before it, too, left the realm of the major planets. “Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a NASA statement. “Our studies start at the sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.” While both Voyagers have now departed the sun’s heliosphere, they are still inside the solar system as it’s currently defined. That boundary is the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a vast collection of rocky debris left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago that is held in place by the sun’s gravity. At its current velocity, it will take Voyager 2 another 300 years or so to reach the inner boundary of the Oort cloud and possibly 30,000 years to move beyond it.

Fascinating!!     🙂

NASA is heightening the search for alien life using ‘technosignatures’

If E.T. is out there, NASA thinks it has a new way to find him – tracking the time he spends on his iPhone. NASA is upping the search for whether we are alone in the universe, using new tools in an effort to find “technosignatures” that may emanate from advanced civilizations. The government space agency is hosting a workshop in Houston to utilize “technosignatures,” signs or signals it says could be evidence of a technologically advanced civilization. “Technosignatures are signs or signals, which if observed, would allow us to infer the existence of technological life elsewhere in the universe,” NASA said on its website. “The best known technosignature are radio signals, but there are many others that have not been explored fully.” Under the scope of looking for extraterrestrials, “technosignatures” have generally been limited to communication signals, but any kind of evidence, such as “radio or laser emissions, signs of massive structures or an atmosphere full of pollutants could imply intelligence,” NASA added. NASA has several tools that it uses to look for exoplanets, including its $337 million alien-planet hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS. Earlier this month, NASA released the first images from TESS. Included in the first batch of pictures are the Large Magellanic Cloud and the bright star R Doradus, among several other planets and stars that could potentially be home to alien life. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) have recently been discovered emanating from deep space, though there is no explanation for what causes them. Most recently, unusual and “mysterious radio bursts” were detected 3 billion light years away from Earth, thanks to an artificial intelligence program at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). “Complex life may evolve into cognitive systems that can employ technology in ways that may be observable,” NASA wrote in its 2015 Astrobiology Strategy paper. “Nobody knows the probability, but we know that it is not zero.” However, it’s not clear whether we’ll ever find evidence of advanced civilizations, as put forth by the physicist Enrico Fermi with his Fermi paradox, which states “that if another intelligent life form was indeed out there, we would have met it by now.” On the other hand, astronomer Frank Drake created a formula in 1961 known as the Drake equation which theorizes that there are approximately 10,000 potentially intelligent civilizations in the galaxy, so the topic is up for much debate in the scientific community. For its part, NASA says it will keep looking for signs of alien life, even if they haven’t found anything yet. “Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is amplifying exploring the solar system and beyond to help humanity answer whether we are alone in the universe,” NASA said on its website.

We’d be fools to ASSume that we are..  There are billions and billions and billions of solar systems throughout the universe.  To ASSume Earth is the only planet with intelligent life is preposterous.  It’s almost a mathematical impossibility.

Aliens might live within 33,000 light-years of Earth, but why haven’t we found them?

Where is everybody? That question was first posed by physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950 and has now become known as the Fermi Paradox, the contradiction between the lack of any evidence that Earth has been visited by intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations and the high probability that one or multiple civilizations exist, due to a number of factors. While some studies claim humans are alone in the universe, a new study suggests that we have barely dipped our toes in the proverbial water when it comes to looking for intelligent life in space. The new study, published in The Astronomical Journal, states that previous searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) are but a fraction of what is eventually possible. “[Jill] Tarter et al. and others have argued strongly to the contrary: bright and obvious radio beacons might be quite common in the sky, but we would not know it yet because our search completeness to date is so low, akin to having searched a drinking glass’ worth of seawater for evidence of fish in all of Earth’s oceans,” the study’s authors write, summarizing the paper. Jill Tarter is the former director of the Center for SETI Research and an American astronomer who describes herself as the “chief cheerleader for SETI.” The Fermi paradox includes several factors as to why humans have not yet found any evidence of extraterrestrial life: There are billions of stars in the galaxy similar to our Sun; many of these stars have Earth-like planets; and some of these civilizations may have developed interstellar travel, something that is being discussed now by experts, including theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku. The researchers have developed a mathematical model of what they are calling a “Cosmic Haystack,” a haystack that is nearly 33,000 light-years in diameter, with Earth at the center. “Although this model haystack has many qualitative differences from the Tarter et al. haystack, we conclude that the fraction of it searched to date is also very small: similar to the ratio of the volume of a large hot tub or small swimming pool to that of the Earth’s oceans,” the summary adds. As part of the mathematical model, the researchers added eight dimensions to look for aliens, including inputs such as signal transmission frequency, bandwidth, power, location, repetition, polarization and modulation. The formula reads as “6.4 × 10^116 m5Hz2 s/W,” according to MIT Technology Review. So far, humans have searched just 0.00000000000000058 percent of the “cosmic haystack,” a minuscule amount, leaving almost infinite potential that intelligent life still exists, even if it has yet to be found. “This is about a bathtub of water in all of Earth’s oceans,” the study’s co-author, Shubham Kanodia said in a NASA workshop last month, according to Insider. “Or about a five-centimeter-by-five-centimeter patch of land on all of Earth’s surface area.”

The new BFR: How SpaceX’s giant rocket-spaceship combo for Mars has changed

SpaceX’s Mars-colonizing Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) spaceflight system just went through a growth spurt. The reusable rocket-spaceship duo will stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall at launch, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Monday (Sept. 17) during a webcast event at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. That’s 11 percent taller than the previous design iteration, which the billionaire entrepreneur laid out in September 2017. Most of that increase comes courtesy of the BFR spaceship, whose length jumped from 157.5 feet to 180 feet (48 to 55 m). And the spaceship has changed in other important ways as well. For example, the 2017 iteration featured six Raptor engines, four of which were big-nozzled vacuum versions optimized for in-space use. But now, SpaceX envisions placing seven Raptors on the ship, all of which will be the same “sea-level” engines that power the huge BFR rocket. In addition, the 100-passenger BFR ship will now feature two movable fins near its nose and two larger ones near its tail — changes thath will help the vehicle maneuver its way to safe landings on worlds with atmospheres, such as Earth and Mars. (The ship will fall like a skydiver rather than fly like an airplane during its landings, however. It will touch down vertically after slowing its descent via engine firings, as the first stages of SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets do now. Such propulsion-based systems are needed for spacecraft to land on airless bodies like the moon, Musk stressed.) Those two rear “actuated” fins will also serve as landing pads, as will a leg back there that’s styled to look like a fin for symmetry and aesthetic purposes, Musk said. The 2017 version of the BFR spaceship didn’t have any front fins, and it sported just two rear “delta wings,” which weren’t part of the landing-leg system. “I think this design is probably on par with the other one,” Musk said during Monday night’s event. “It might be better. It’s slightly riskier technically, because of coupling legs and sort of the actuating wing-fin flaps . But I think it’s the right decision overall. I think it looks beautiful.” He also cited the new design’s resemblance to the rocket used by the comic-book character Tintin in the 1954 adventure “Explorers on the Moon.” “I love the Tintin rocket design, so I kind of wanted to bias it towards that,” Musk said. “If in doubt, go with Tintin.” Despite its recent growth, the BFR is still smaller than it was at birth, when it was known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). Musk unveiled the ITS architecture at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, announcing that the vehicle would stand 400 feet tall (122 m) and be 40 feet (12 m) wide. That girth was scaled down to 30 feet (9 m) in the 2017 update and remains the same today. Indeed, there shouldn’t be many big changes to the booster or spaceship going forward, Musk said Monday night. “I feel like this is the final iteration in terms of broad architectural decisions for BFR, BFS [Big Falcon Spaceship],” he said (though he did later add that the next version of the spaceship will probably also feature some vacuum Raptors). The architecture update was a bit of a sidelight Monday night. The main point of the event was to introduce Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the person who bought a round-the-moon flight aboard the BFR that could launch as soon as 2023, if development and testing of the vehicle go smoothly. Maezawa said he plans to take six to eight artists with him on the mission, which he is calling #dearMoon. He expects the works they create after returning to Earth to be transformative. “These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us,” Maezawa said. Musk praised Maezawa’s bravery and said his purchase (the cost of which was not disclosed) will help the development of the BFR significantly. SpaceX envisions the BFR eventually ferrying people to the moon, Mars and other worlds on a regular basis, helping humanity extend its footprint into the solar system. “The BFR is really intended as an interplanetary transport system that’s capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system, as you establish propellant depots along the way,” Musk said.

Very cool!!   Go SpaceX!   🙂

NASA created a rare, exotic state of matter in space

NASA has cooled a cloud of rubidium atoms to ten-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, producing the fifth, exotic state of matter in space. The experiment also now holds the record for the coldest object we know of in space, though it isn’t yet the coldest thing humanity has ever created. (That record still belongs to a laboratory at MIT.) The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) is a compact quantum physics machine, a device built to work in the confines of the International Space Station (ISS) that launched into space in May. Now, according to a statement from NASA, the device has produced its first Bose-Einstein condensates, the strange conglomerations of atoms that scientists use to see quantum effects play out at large scales. “Typically, BEC experiments involve enough equipment to fill a room and require near-constant monitoring by scientists, whereas CAL is about the size of a small refrigerator and can be operated remotely from Earth,” Robert Shotwell, who leads the experiment from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the statement. Despite that difficulty, NASA said, the project was worth the effort. A Bose-Einstein condensate on Earth is already a fascinating object; at super-low temperatures, atoms’ boundaries blend together, and usually-invisible quantum effects play out in ways scientists can directly observe. But cooling clouds of atoms to ultra-low temperatures requires suspending them using magnets or lasers. And once those magnets or lasers are shut off for observations, the condensates fall to the floor of the experiment and dissipate. In the microgravity of the ISS, however, things work a bit differently. The CAL can form a Bose-Einstein condensate, set it free, then have a significantly longer time to observe it before it drifts off, NASA wrote — as long as 5 or 10 seconds. And that advantage, as Live Science previously reported, should eventually allow NASA to create condensates far colder than any on Earth. As the condensates expand outside their container, they cool further. And the longer they have to cool, the colder they get.

Fascinating!!  For more, click on the text above.      🙂

New radio telescope picks up mysterious signal from space

A new radio telescope in Canada is doing its job picking up mysterious signals from deep space known as “fast radio bursts” (FRBs). The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in British Columbia detected the first-ever FRB at frequencies below 700 MHz on July 25, a signal named FRB 180725A. As you might guess, FRBs are milliseconds-long bursts of radio emissions that come from some unknown source across the universe. They’re one of the newer cosmic mysteries around, having been first detected only about a decade ago. Possible explanations include bursts from magnetars, exploding black holes, and yes, highly advanced alien civilizations. CHIME has been operating for less than a year and is designed to gather data on FRBs and other unanswered questions in astrophysics. The detection of FRB 180725A is very preliminary at this point. It was announced in an online “Astronomer’s Telegram” post intended to encourage other astronomers “to search for repeated bursts at all wavelengths.” The announcement also notes that additional FRBs have been found in the past week at frequencies as low as 400 MHz and early indications suggest they aren’t coming from known sources on Earth. So far only one FRB has been observed repeating and researchers say whatever is sending that signal across the universe is stupendously powerful. It’s early days for both the study of FRBs and this FRB in particular. CHIME and other observatories will be keeping an ear to the sky for more clues to help solve the mystery.

Things that make ya’ go, “hmmmm..”     🙂