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Theoretical Evidence For a Ninth Planet Beyond Pluto May Be Premature ( 176

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier today, the team of Pluto-killer Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin announced that they had found evidence of a ninth planet in our Solar System beyond the orbit of Pluto, larger and more massive than even Earth. However, a closer inspection of the work shows that they predict a few things that haven't been observed, including a population of Kuiper belt objects with large inclinations and retrograde orbits, long-period Kuiper belt objects with opposite ecliptic latitudes and longitudes, and infrared data showing the emission from such an outer world. There are many good reasons to be skeptical, and not conclude that there's a ninth planet without more (and better) evidence.

The Russian Plan To Use Space Mirrors To Turn Night Into Day ( 126

merbs writes: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it's that too. The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.

Comets Can't Explain Weird 'Alien Megastructure' Star After All ( 412

schwit1 sends the latest news about KIC 8462852, the star that that led many to learn what a Dyson Sphere is. New Scientist reports: "The weirdest star in the cosmos just got a lot weirder. And yes, it might be aliens. Known as KIC 8462852, or Tabby's star, it has been baffling astronomers for the past few months after a team of researchers noticed its light seemed to be dipping in brightness in bizarre ways. Proposed explanations ranged from a cloud of comets to orbiting 'alien megastructures'. Now an analysis of historical observations reveals the star has been gradually dimming for over a century, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to the cause. Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University saw the same century-long dimming in his manual readings, and calculated that it would require 648,000 comets, each 200 kilometres wide, to have passed by the star — completely implausible, he says. 'The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,' he says. 'But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.' 'This presents some trouble for the comet hypothesis,' says Boyajian. 'We need more data through continuous monitoring to figure out what is going on.' What about those alien megastructures? Schafer is unconvinced. 'The alien-megastructure idea runs wrong with my new observations,' he says, as he thinks even advanced aliens wouldn't be able to build something capable of covering a fifth of a star in just a century. What's more, such an object should radiate light absorbed from the star as heat, but the infrared signal from Tabby's star appears normal, he says."

Are Some Things About the Universe Fundamentally Unknowable? ( 225

StartsWithABang writes: As we peel back the layers of information deeper and deeper into the Universe's history, we uncover progressively more knowledge about how everything we know today came to be. The discovery of distant galaxies and their redshifts led to expanding Universe, which led to the Big Bang and the discovery of very early phases like the cosmic microwave background and big bang nucleosynthesis. But before that, there was a period of cosmic inflation that left its mark on the Universe. What came before inflation, then? Did it always exist? Did it have a beginning? Or did it mark the rebirth of a cosmic cycle? Maddeningly, this information may forever be inaccessible to us, as the nature of inflation wipes all this information clean from our visible Universe.

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).

The Engineering and Logistics of Building the Giant Magellan Telescope ( 22

New submitter Kenneth Stephen writes: Astronomers have always wanted bigger and better telescopes. Building such telescopes today come with many challenges that require high precision work to resolve. This story describes the design thinking that is being applied to the construction and deployment of the Giant Magellan Telescope. From the article: "One of the challenges of using a large mirror is that it tends to bend under its own weight and the force of wind. The mirror is exposed to wind like a sail on a yacht, but it can only bend by about 100 nanometers before its images become too blurry. The best way to overcome this problem is to make the mirror as stiff as is practical, while also limiting its weight. We accomplish this feat by casting the mirror into a lightweight honeycomb structure. Each mirror has a continuous glass facesheet on top and an almost continuous backsheet, each about one inch thick. Holding the two sheets together is a honeycomb structure consisting of half-inch-thick ribs in a hexagonal pattern. Our honeycomb mirrors are 70 centimeters thick, making them stiff enough to withstand the forces of gravity and wind. But they’re 80 percent hollow and weigh about 16 tons each, light enough that they don’t bend significantly under their own weight."

NASA Awards Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser an ISS Commercial Resupply Contract ( 57

MarkWhittington writes: The Verge reported that NASA has awarded the second round of contracts for the commercial resupply program. Two companies, SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences, which have been hauling cargo to the International Space Station in the first phase of the program, will receive contracts to fly at least six flights each to the ISS through 2024, the anticipated end of operations year for the space station. But Sierra Nevada has also gotten a six flight commitment, using a cargo version of its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

NASA Forms New Planetary Defense Office To Manage Asteroid Threats ( 63

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has set up a new Planetary Defense Coordination Office to detect and track near-Earth objects. CNN reports: "The department, which includes the position of Planetary Defense Officer, is managed by the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. And its mission includes the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) — asteroids and comets which get within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth's orbit around the sun (7.5 million kilometers) and are large enough, greater than around 30 — 50 meters (98 — 164 feet), to reach the Earth's surface." Bruce Willis had no comment on his level of involvement in the new agency.

Space Entrepreneur Opines Donald Trump Could Do an Inspirational Space Program ( 154

MarkWhittington writes: Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace opened his new Twitter account with the suggestion that Donald Trump, the mercurial businessman who is running for president, might just give the United States an inspirational space program. Then, thinking better of the idea, Bigelow deleted the tweet and replaced it with an image of the Olympus inflatable space module, which his company envisions as being the basis of a commercial space station.

Planetary Resources Reveals Out-of-This-World 3D Printing ( 34

Zothecula writes: If one is going to get into the asteroid mining business, one needs to prove that you can do something with what's brought back. That seems to be the thinking behind Planetary Resources' recent presentation at CES in Las Vegas, where the asteroid mining company unveiled the first object 3D printed using extraterrestrial materials. Made in collaboration with 3D Systems, the nickel-iron sculpture represents a stylized, geometric spacecraft, such as might be used for asteroid mining or prospecting. Planetary Resources says it is representative of what could be printed in a weightless environment.

China Names Chang'e 3 Lunar Landing Site 'Guang Han Gong' Or 'Moon Palace' ( 83

MarkWhittington writes: One of the privileges of landing on the moon is that the country that does so gets to name the landing site. For example, the International Astronomical Union has officially recognized "Tranquility Base", using the Latin designation "Statio Tranquillitatis", as the site where the Apollo 11 astronauts first landed and walked on the moon on July 20, 1969. Now, according to a story in Moon Daily, the site where the Chinese Chang'e 3 probe landed has been named "Guang Han Gong" which translates as "Moon Palace." The name has also been recognized by the IAU.

Comet Catalina Coming To a Night Sky Near You ( 26

TigerNut writes: CBC is running a story on the upcoming closest approach of Comet Catalina. While the headline makes it sound like a one-night deal for the morning of January 1, the best viewing may actually occur next weekend (Jan 8-10) because the moon will not be a bright distraction at that time. The CBC reports: "Comet Catalina, which is less than 20 kilometres across, was discovered in 2013 by the Tuscon, Ariz.-based Catalina Sky Survey, which looks for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. At first, it was thought to be a very large near-Earth asteroid. But astronomers soon realized it was actually a very long, near-parabolic orbit and observations with the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope showed 'modest cometary activity.'"

Auroral Show To Dazzle Just Before the New Year; Best View From the ISS ( 28

An anonymous reader writes: When the Sun emits a flare or a mass ejection in the direction of Earth, these fast moving particles are when Earth's magnetosphere and atmosphere are of the utmost importance for shielding us. The magnetic field bends these ions harmlessly away from our planet, only funneling a small fraction down into a ring surrounding the poles. The atmosphere absorbs the impact, shielding all living creatures below from this radiation, while simultaneously putting on a show. Thanks to a coronal mass ejection on the 28th, the northern and southern lights will put on quite a display on the night of the 30th for all skywatchers at or above 50 degrees latitude, with chances that observers further towards the equator might have something to see, too. But the best views of all will belong to the unshielded astronauts aboard the ISS, who will pass around the Earth a full 7 times during our "night," and at the peak of the storm.

Physicists Theorize Out How To Retrieve Information From a Black Hole ( 82

sciencehabit writes: Black holes earn their name because their gravity is so strong not even light can escape from them. Oddly, though, physicists have come up with a bit of theoretical sleight of hand to retrieve a speck of information that's been dropped into a black hole. The calculation touches on one of the biggest mysteries in physics: how all of the information trapped in a black hole leaks out as the black hole 'evaporates.' Many theorists think that must happen, but they don't know how.

SpaceX Lands Falcon 9 Rocket At Cape Canaveral ( 373

Rei writes: At 8:40 PM today, SpaceX successfully launched and relanded the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, as well as delivering to orbit the last portion of ORBCOMM's communication satellite constellation. This also marks SpaceX's return to flight and the first launch of the "Full Thrust" Falcon 9 v1.1 with densified (extremely chilled) propellants. The company will now shift its efforts toward catching up on its backlog, investigating and refurbishing its landed first stage, and preparing for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket this spring. Congratulations to everyone at SpaceX!

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