Friday, May 18, 2012

Dragon takes flight tomorrow! 05.18.12

SpaceX, a commercial spacecraft company, will make history tomorrow if all goes as planned. It will become the first private company to launch a commercially designed and built spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Dragon (a wonderful name with an even better logo, we think), should launch tomorrow, May 19, at 4:55 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission is primarily a safety test. NASA and SpaceX will both offer live coverage of the launch.

Read more from SpaceX.
Read the official Dragon press kit.
Read the original story from

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Super Discovery, 05.11.12

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has made another monumental discovery: a “super-Earth.”
Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth is, for now, called 55 Cancri e, and is situated in the constellation Cancer, about 41 light years away. For the first time, scientists were able to actually measure the light emanating (reflected) from the planet itself, instead of measuring how much light it blocks as it transits in front of its star. Because of the low measure­ments that were taken, scientists guess that the planet is probably very dark most of the time. It appears to be tidally locked, though (one side is stuck facing its star), and that side appears to have temperatures in excess of 3,000 Fahrenheit. Just so we’re clear on how hot that is, most kinds of metal will be liquid at that temperature.
Based on their observations, scientists are saying the planet most likely has a rocky core and is covered with water. Be­cause of the extreme heat on the sunny side, however, the water is probably in a “supercritical” state, where it exists as both liquid and gas. NASA claims the atmosphere is covered with steam. Regardless, the atmosphere appears to be very thin, as it is doing such a poor job of blocking its sun’s heat.
Based on all observations made at this point, the planet cannot support life.
Read more from NASA.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hungry, Hungry Black Holes 05.05.12

A black hole has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. Researchers with the space-based Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) have discovered a black hole actually in the act of consuming a nearby star.
CREDIT: NASA, S. Gezari (The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.), A. Rest (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.), and R. Chornock (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astro­physics, Cambridge, Ma.)

It all started out in such a normal way— no one ever suspected the black hole was capable of doing such a heinous thing, and then blam! All that remained was crumbs.
No, that’s not really how it started. In a way, the star itself is almost to blame for its demise. The victim is a star that ap­pears to be going through a major life change, of a sort. The star appears to have been going through its red star phase, and was in the process of swelling to 100 times its original radius. The star only made it a third of the way out, however, before the nearby black hole’s tremendous gravity began stripping off some of the gasses from the edge of the star. Based on the spectrum of the gases, researchers say the star was mostly composed of helium. The researchers with GALEX have made this nifty little computer simulated representation to let us know sort of what it would look like: http://
So, why is this important? Well, for once, researchers can watch a black hole in the act of “eating” something substan­tial. Black holes are completely invisible to us— we have no technology that is capable of seeing them— all we can see is the carnage they leave behind. By watching some poor star get sucked into one, though, we will have a much better under­standing of how black holes function and “look.”
Read more from