NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, now in its 33rd year on the job, has reached the very edge of our solar system and is nearing the cusp of interstellar space. How does NASA know? The wind has died down. Voyager 1 has reached a point in the heliosheath that envelopes our solar system in which the speed of the solar wind that has been at Voyager’s back for three decades has dropped to zero.
The burgeoning problem of space debris and the threat it presents to satellites, manned space mission, and occasionally the International Space Station is no secret to those following the headlines coming out of low Earth orbit. But though the threat is real, the problem receives little public visibility.
Just when the search for exoplanets looked like the undisputed fashionable field of study for 2010, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) is stepping to the forefront of astronomy and cosmology. Last month, it was Oxford's Roger Penrose claiming that he'd found evidence of a cyclical universe in patterns of concentric circles in the CMB, suggesting our universe is just one of many that have come before it (and will come after it).
Last week's launch of NanoSail-D – NASA's solar sailing nanosatellite that was reportedly launched from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) last week – may not have gone as well as initially thought. In fact, it may not have happened at all.
IKAROS would do well to watch its back, for the Japanese solar-sailing spacecraft may just have some competition that's fast enough to catch up. The EU is funding a three-year project at the Finnish Meteorological Institute to build the fastest man-made device in the universe: an electric sail, or ESAIL, that researchers say could make Pluto in just five years' time.
It is often said that you can’t get something for nothing, but a handful of scientists from the University of Michigan would beg to differ. Theoretically speaking, they say, you can conjure particles from a vacuum under the right conditions. All you need is an ultra-high-intensity laser, a particle accelerator, and an open mind about what exactly “nothing” is (hint: it’s something).
The private spaceflight industry took another giant leap forward today as privately-owned SpaceX, with help from NASA, successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying its Dragon crew capsule into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Though the crew capsule was unmanned for this maiden flight, the launch marks the first time a private spaceflight company has launched a spaceship into orbit with the intention of bringing it safely back to Earth.
A Japanese probe bound for Venus has missed its orbit and been seized by the sun’s gravitational pull, in a major setback for Japan’s shoestring space program. The probe, called Akatsuki, isn’t necessarily lost however. JAXA officials are still in contact with the probe and may try to insert it into orbit around Venus when it passes near the planet again – in six years.
Last month’s solar storm was pretty stellar, but the massive flare that erupted from the sun yesterday put it to shame, lashing out from the solar surface in a beautiful filament that stretched for 435,000 miles – nearly twice the distance between the Earth and moon and about 60,000 miles larger than last month’s plasma ejection.
This little video, brought to us by NASA Goddard, shows off all of the galaxies we're currently aware of, in one swirling, fluid shot. It's like the visualizer your freshman college roommate used to stare at on his laptop while listening to Sigur Ros, under the influence of who knows what--but for real.