Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA
In the past four decades, NASA and other space agencies from around the world have accomplished some amazing feats. Together, they have sent manned missions to the Moon, explored Mars, mapped Venus and Mercury, conducted surveys and captured breathtaking images of the Outer Solar System. However, looking ahead to the next generation of exploration and the more-distant frontiers that remain to be explored, it is clear that new ideas need to be put forward of how to quickly and efficiently reach those destinations.
Basically, this means finding ways to power rockets that are more fuel and cost-effective while still providing the necessary power to get crews, rovers and orbiters to their far-flung destinations. In this respect, NASA has been taking a good look at nuclear fission as a possible means of propulsion.
In fact, according to presentation made by Doctor Michael G. Houts of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center back in October of 2014, nuclear power and propulsion have the potential to be “game changing technologies for space exploration.”
Can you see the comet? Four solar system objects adjusted for true brightness counterclockwise from the upper right: Earth, Enceladus, the Moon, and Comet 67/P. Credit: ESA/Rosetta Blog/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute (Enceladus); ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/ UPM/DASP/IDA and Gordan Ugarkovich (Earth); Robert Vanderbei, Princeton University (Moon); ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM (67P/C-G).
There’s darkness out there in the cold corners of the solar system.
And we’re not talking about a Lovecraftian darkness, the kind that would summon Cthulhu himself. We’re talking of celestial bodies that are, well. So black, they make a Spinal Tap album cover blinding by comparison. [click to continue…]
Toes of a pahoehoe flow of basaltic lava advance across a road in Kalapana from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii (left). Meanwhile scientists have just determined that the main body of visiting binary asteroid 2004 BL86 is composed of similar material. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey (left) and NASA/JPL-Caltech
At first glance, you wouldn’t think Hawaii has any connection at all with asteroid 2004 BL86, the one that missed Earth by 750,000 miles (1.2 million km) just 3 days ago. One’s a tropical paradise with nightly pig roasts, beaches and shave ice; the other an uninhabitable ball of bare rock untouched by floral print swimsuits.
But Planetary Science Institute researchers Vishnu Reddy and Driss Takir would beg to differ. [click to continue…]
A fresh 1-km wide crater on Mars, captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Or does it look like a mountain to you? Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
Yesterday, we posted an image taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of an unusual crater formed by a triple-asteroid. We noticed some comments on the article and on social media of people who said, “hey, that looks like a mountain, not a crater!”
Thanks to our brains, this is a common illusion! Depending on the angle of the Sun when the picture was taken, images of craters taken from overhead (i.e. from orbit) may appear to be a mountain. Here on Earth, we’re used to seeing sunlight coming from overhead, and our brain interprets what we see with the assumption that the sunlight *must* always come from above. Satellite photos of terrain, however usually only show shadows when the light source is nearly horizontal with the surface.
There’s an easy fix for this illusion: flip the image over so it appears the sunlight is coming from above. We’ve done that for you, below: [click to continue…]
If Dr. Who has taught us anything, it’s that time is kind of crazy. And we’re not just talking about time travel here, we’re talking about regular old “now”. Well, what “now” means depends on where you are and how fast you’re moving. [click to continue…]
How would our horizon look if Earth orbited around another star, such as Alfa-Centauri, Sirius, or Polaris? Roscosmos TV has released two new videos that replace our familiar Sun and Moon with other stars and planets. While these are completely fantastical — as Earth would have evolved very differently or not evolved at all in orbit around a giant or binary star — the videos are very well done and they give a new appreciation for the accustomed and comforting views we have. The Sun video is above; the Moon below: [click to continue…]
Are we seeing the convergence of a century of space science and science fiction before our eyes? Will Musk and SpaceX make 2001 Space Odyssey a reality? (Photo Credit: NASA, Apple, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Illustration – Judy Schmidt)
In Kubrick’s and Clark’s 2001 Space Odyssey, there was no question of “Boots or Bots”[ref]. The monolith had been left for humanity as a mileage and direction marker on Route 66 to the stars. So we went to Jupiter and Dave Bowman overcame a sentient machine, shut it down cold and went forth to discover the greatest story yet to be told.
Now Elon Musk, born three years after the great science fiction movie and one year before the last Apollo mission to the Moon has set his goals, is achieving milestones to lift humans beyond low-Earth orbit, beyond the bonds of Earth’s gravity and take us to the first stop in the final frontier – Mars – the destination of the SpaceX odyssey.
This artist’s conception shows a newly formed star surrounded by a swirling protoplanetary disk of dust and gas. Credit: University of Copenhagen/Lars Buchhave
How did the Solar System’s planets come to be? The leading theory is something known as the “protoplanet hypothesis”, which essentially says that very small objects stuck to each other and grew bigger and bigger — big enough to even form the gas giants, such as Jupiter.
But how the heck did that happen? More details below.
A triple crater in Elysium Planitia on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
At first glance, you many not guess that this feature on Mars is an impact crater. The reason it looks so unusual is that it likely is a triple impact crater, formed when three asteroids struck all at once in the Elysium Planitia region.
Why do planetary scientists think the three craters did not form independently at different times? [click to continue…]