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NASA's Deep Space Habitat Could Support the Journey To Mars and a Lunar Return ( 43

MarkWhittington writes: Back in 2012, when NASA first proposed building a deep space habitat (DSH) beyond the moon, the Obama administration took a dim view of the idea. However, fast forward over three years, and the idea has become part of the Journey to Mars program. According to a story in Spaceflight Insider, the deep space habitat will be deployed in cis-lunar space in the 2020s to test various technologies related to sending humans to Mars. The DSH could also be part of an infrastructure that would support a return to the moon should the next administration decide to go that route.

Blue Origin Launches and Lands the Same New Shepard That Few In November ( 132

MarkWhittington writes: The commercial space race between Blue Origin and SpaceX got more interesting on Friday. In November, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster on a suborbital flight, and then successfully landed it afterward. On Friday, Blue Origin relaunched the same New Shepard spacecraft to a height of 101.7 kilometers, and then landed it a second time. Blue Origin has therefore accomplished a first by flying a vertical takeoff and landing rocket into space twice in a row. The company has taken another step toward its goal of taking the rich and adventurous on suborbital jaunts for fun and profit.

Caltech Astronomers Say a Ninth Planet Lurks Beyond Pluto ( 258

sciencehabit writes: The solar system may have a new ninth planet. Today, two scientists announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune — but as yet unseen — orbits the sun every 15,000 years. During the solar system's infancy 4.5 billion years ago, they say, the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun. Slowed down by gas, the planet settled into a distant elliptical orbit, where it still lurks today. Here's a link to the full academic paper published in The Astronomical Journal.

Growing Flowers In Space ( 44

An anonymous reader writes: This weekend, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly posted a picture of the first flower to bloom in space. The International Space Station has been home to the Veggie plant growth facility for almost two years, and scientists have been working hard to figure out how to keep crops alive in microgravity. It's a challenge to keep plants properly heated and hydrated, and their current specimens been attacked by mold as well. "More crops for Veggie are heading to the orbiting laboratory aboard SpaceX-8. The Veg-03 run will include two sets of Chinese cabbage, and one set of red romaine lettuce. In 2018, there are plans to launch dwarf tomato seeds to the space station. Smith said the lessons learned from growing zinnia flowers will be critical in the process of growing tomatoes, a fellow flowering plant. Studies are also in progress to see how adjusting the lighting in the Veggie plant growth facility can affect plan mineral composition. There will be preflight testing to determine what 'light recipe' to use aboard the station."

SpaceX Successfully Launches Jason-3 Satellite, Rocket Landing Partial Success ( 118

An anonymous reader writes: SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket today carrying the Jason-3 ocean monitoring satellite. "Jason-3 data will be used for monitoring global sea level rise, researching human impacts on oceans, aiding prediction of hurricane intensity, and operational marine navigation," NASA said. Unfortunately Space X reports that the attempt to land the Falcon 9 on a drone platform was only a partial success. According to the company twitter page: "First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg." Update: 01/18 04:16 GMT by S : Here's a brief video of the landing attempt (somewhat loud).

Distant Supernova Is the Most Powerful Ever Detected ( 75

schwit1 writes: Newly published research into a supernova under observation since June has found it to be the most powerful known to modern science. "This one, called ASASSN-15lh, is about 3.8 billion light years away, 200 times more powerful than most supernovas, and twice as bright as the previous record holder. It shines 20 times brighter than the combined output of the Milky Way's 100 billion stars, and in the last six months, it has spewed as much energy as the sun would in 10 lifetimes, says Krzysztof Stanek of the Ohio State University, co-principal investigator of the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN) network that spotted the explosion." The explosion doesn't fit well with current theories of supernova energy release, so astronomers are working to figure out its unusual mechanics.

China Targets 2018 For Landing Probe On Far Side of Moon ( 101

An anonymous reader writes: Despite all the time we've spent studying the moon, nobody has ever deployed a probe to its far side. Now, China has announced that it plans to land a probe there in 2018. The craft they plan to send is similar to the Chang'e-3 probe with its Jade Rabbit rover. They plan to study the geologic conditions on the far side of the moon. "China insists that its space program is for peaceful purposes. However, the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis. In March, the Chinese government said it would open up its lunar exploration program to companies rather than simply relying on the state-owned sector as before, hoping to boost technological breakthroughs."

Inside NASA's Space Rock Vault ( 11

An anonymous reader writes: In an unassuming building at Johnson Space Center, NASA maintains clean rooms and employs curators to support its collection of rocks and other matter from elsewhere in the solar system. Ars got to tour the facility and take pictures of the samples inside. "The collection houses about 20,000 rocks, but the most famous of those rocks is ALH84001. Sometime around 16 million years ago, a large meteorite or asteroid 0.5 to 1 km across or larger struck the Martian surface and blasted some rocks into space at a speed greater than the red planet's escape velocity. One of them flew through space until about 13,000 years ago when it crashed into Antarctica." NASA keeps bits of a comet trapped in aerogel, as well as the remains of the Genesis probe that captured particles of solar wind. Of course, this is dwarfed by the vast collection of lunar rock samples brought back by the Apollo missions. Some of them have yet to be opened. "They were collected in the vacuum of the lunar surface, placed inside vacuum sealed tubes, and remain that way to this day. NASA is preserving them for some theoretical future where science has progressed to enable some new, powerful method of analysis."

What Spotlighting Harassment In Astronomy Means 432

StartsWithABang writes: Geoff Marcy. Tim Slater. Christian Ott. And a great many more who are just waiting to be publicly exposed for what they've done (and in many cases, are still doing). Does it mean that astronomy has a harassment problem? Of course it does, but that's not the real story. The real story is that, for the first time, an entire academic field is recognizing a widespread problem, taking steps to change its policies, and is beginning to support the victims, rather than the senior, more famous, more prestigious perpetrators. Astronomy is the just start; hopefully physics, computer science, engineering, philosophy and economics are next.

SpaceX Plans Drone Ship Landing On January 17th ( 115

Rei writes: With the world's first successful low-speed landing of an orbital rocket's first stage complete, SpaceX looks to continue that success by attempting its second landing — this time, on their new drone ship in the Pacific. While SpaceX has announced plans to turn their successfully-landed rocket, reportedly flight-ready, into a a museum piece, the stage they recover next may be SpaceX's first chance to prove the mudslinging of their competitors wrong and show that Russia's worries are well founded. That is, if they can successfully pull it off.

The Mystery of the Naked Black Hole ( 81

sciencehabit writes: Most, if not all, galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers surrounded by dense clouds of stars. Now, researchers have found one that seems to have lost almost its entire entourage. The team, which reported its find at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, says it doesn't know what stripped the stars away. But it has put forward a tantalizing possibility: The object could be an extremely rare medium-sized black hole, which theorists have predicted but observers have never seen.

Alpha Centauri Turns Out Not To Have a Planet After All. At Least, Not Yet ( 91

StartsWithABang writes: In 2012, astronomers announced that the nearest star system to us, the Alpha Centauri system, possessed at least one exoplanet around it. A periodic signal that recurred just every 3.24 days was consistent with an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting and gravitationally tugging on the second largest member of the star system: Alpha Centauri B. That planet, named Alpha Centauri Bb, turns out not to actually be there. A reanalysis of the data shows that a combination of stellar properties and the times at which the observations were made conspired to produce this spurious signal: a signal that goes away if the data is handled correctly. Accounting for everything correctly reveals something else of interest, a periodic 20-day signal, which may turn out — with better observations — to be Alpha Centauri's first exoplanet after all.

The Three Possible Classes of Interstellar Travel ( 330

An anonymous reader writes: The stars call to us through the ages, with each and every one holding the promise of a future for humanity beyond Earth. For generations, this was a mere dream, as our technology allowed us to neither know what worlds might lie beyond our own Solar System or to reach beyond our planet. But time and development has changed both of those things significantly. Now, when we look to the stars, we know that potentially habitable worlds lurk throughout our galaxy, and our spaceflight capabilities can bring us there. But so far, it would only be a very long, lonely, one-way trip. This isn't necessarily going to be the case forever, though, as physically feasible technology could get humans to another star within a single lifetime, and potentially groundbreaking technology might make the journey almost instantaneous.

Scientists Can Pinpoint Surface Gravity On Other Stars ( 38

An anonymous reader writes: Astronomers have developed a new technique to measure the surface gravity on distant stars. Earlier techniques relied on measuring the amount of light coming from the star, and were unreliable beyond a certain distance. The new work instead focuses on variations in the light over a longer period of time — indications of turbulence and vibration — which can provide detailed information at greater distances. One of the researchers, Professor Jaymie Matthews, said, "Our technique can tell you how big and bright is the star, and if a planet around it is the right size and temperature to have water oceans, and maybe life." According to their research paper, "We have tested this for a well-defined subsample of the Kepler catalog and found it to maintain a high accuracy, about six times better than that of the flicker method. In addition, it is more noise-tolerant than asteroseismology and gives a reasonably accurate surface gravity g for stars that are too faint for a reliable asteroseismic analysis. Therefore, the time scale technique makes it possible to study otherwise poorly understood stars, which will lead to better characterization of exoplanetary systems both individually and statistically."

Planetary Exploration In 2016 ( 27

An anonymous reader writes: Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society blog has put together a post about all of the space missions set to return data from planets, moons, and other bodies in the solar system this year. She's also assembled some cool visualizations of when the missions are active at their locations of interest. In summary: "Akatsuki is at Venus, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and two Chang'e missions at the Moon, two rovers and five orbiters are active at Mars, Dawn is at Ceres, Rosetta is at 67P, Cassini is at Saturn, and although New Horizons is far past Pluto, it'll be sending back new Pluto science data for most of the year, so I'm counting that as still doing science. Another two missions (Hayabusa2 and Juno) are in their cruise phase; Juno arrives at Jupiter in August. Two (ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and OSIRIS-Rex) or three (if you count the Schiaparelli lander separately) will launch this year, with their science starting after 2016."

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