Photos from the surface of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet

Friday, 21 November, 2014

Landing a probe, or a craft with a human crew, on another planet or moon, is hard enough, so imagine the know-how required to set down on a comet. Still, that’s what the European Space Agency succeeded in doing last week, when its Rosetta mission landed a probe on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Needless to say, the photos collected by the probes concerned, during the approach to the comet, and then the landing, are spectacular. To say the least.

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Do you really want to live on Mars? Then read this first…

Friday, 21 November, 2014

If you’re a regular visitor here, then the Mars One project will require no introduction. In short, the idea is to send people to Mars, on a way ticket, to establish a human colony there.

Make no mistake, living on, or more to the point, under Mars, as conditions on the surface are far from hospitable, won’t be easy though. In fact anyone considering signing up ought to have a read of this blunt assessment of the prospect

“They’re going to be living like moles,” Willson says. “I don’t think that the people who volunteered really appreciate that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives living in a submarine.” The first colonists would likely spend most of their time repairing the equipment that is keeping them alive. “Replacing parts and replacing a toothbrush, having toilet paper – there are some things that modern society expects and does and there would be significant degrading of your lifestyle on Mars,” says Willson.

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An “Interstellar” Earth, can it be averted?

Tuesday, 18 November, 2014

The world in which Interstellar, US director Christopher Nolan’s latest feature, is set, is not one many of us would wish to live in, on account of an abundance of pestilence and dust storms. In fact, humanity is looking into finding another planet to move to, so bad are conditions on Earth.

But can we avoid such a bleak future in reality? Quite possibly, yes. Would we, however, want to give up on the search for another planet to migrate to, should, for whatever reason, the need arise? No, quite possibly not (warning, “Interstellar” spoilers):

Even with our efforts to keep Earth pumping out enough food to feed the billions of people who live here, there is some chance that the planet will not forever be a safe home for humanity. In that light, we should be looking for other places to live, a backup plan in case of global failure.

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It’s just another day in the planetary neighbourhood

Monday, 17 November, 2014

Photo by Chinese National Space Administration

The Moon and Earth from a perspective that we don’t see too often, taken by the Chang’e 5-T1, a China National Space Administration (CNSA) space probe, on a recent test flight to the Moon.

Via The Universe™.

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Aborting the launch of the Space Shuttle, easy… in theory anyway

Monday, 20 October, 2014

There was a procedure in place to abort a Space Shuttle flight if a problem became apparent on, or immediately, after launch, but it certainly wasn’t a simple matter of switching off the engines, and heading towards a nearby landing strip…

About two minutes into the flight, the SRBs [Solid Rocket Boosters] would burn out and then be jettisoned. The SSMEs [Space Shuttle Main Engines] would continue to burn fuel from the ET [External Tank] until about eight and a half minutes after liftoff. For missions with a particularly heavy payload, the two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines could be fired during ascent to help the shuttle aloft. The OMS engines were also used later to adjust the shuttle’s orbit, including the deorbit burn that brought it home at the end of the mission. After Main Engine Cutoff (MECO), the shuttle would jettison the empty ET, which would disintegrate as it tumbled back to Earth. That’s all there was to it. What could possibly go wrong?

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Establishing a human colony on Mars, not so straightforward?

Friday, 17 October, 2014

I was quite excited about the Mars One idea, when I first heard of it a couple of years ago. Both pioneering and audacious, the project founders proposed sending four people at a time to Mars in 2024, followed by another group every two years thereafter, gradually establishing a human colony on the red planet in the process.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, analysis of the concept, based on what is currently known publicly, however finds the plan, to be unsustainable. In short they conclude that Mars One is trying to achieve too much, too soon:

The lead author, Sydney Do, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said via email that in his view “the Mars One Concept is unsustainable” because of the current state of technology and its “aggressive expansion approach” of quickly adding more and more people rather than keeping the settlement at a fixed size for a period of time.

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The Cosmonaut’s survival kit, but for survival where exactly?

Thursday, 9 October, 2014

Cosmonauts on Soviet Soyuz spacecraft flights were issued with survival kits that included among other things, pistols and ammunition, fishing gear, compasses, knives, medical kits, and fire starters. And not for use on some inhabited alien planet they may have chanced upon mind you, but planet Earth…

The pistol was intended to scare off “wolves, bears, tigers, etc.” on the event of a crash landing. Later Soviet survival kits expanded to include fishing tackle, improved cold suits, royal blue knit caps with the Cyrillic initials of each cosmonaut (shades of The Life Aquatic) and “ugh boots” lined with fur.

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Fidelity and interstellar travel, do they mix at the speed of light?

Thursday, 18 September, 2014

There are a million or more scientific, engineering, financial, and who knows what else, hurdles to be jumped before we go taking off to other parts of the cosmos at the speed of light, but I guess now is a good time to address the topic of… fidelity.

Specifically fidelity on the part of the space voyager’s partner, who remains on Earth, while their other half is absent for decades, at the very least, zapping about interstellar space. US author Mary Roach, writer of Packing for Mars, takes the view that such loyalty may not be the best idea, and for good reason really:

And more important, Roach points out, the astronaut who comes back from voyaging to another galaxy will still be relatively young and fit and good-looking (because they were traveling at near the speed of light, so from their perspective the trip didn’t take that long), while the spouse back home will have aged and withered, having waited around on a planet that just kept spinning indifferently. It’s a recipe for disaster, basically. And betrayal. And pain.

It was always my understanding that the crew of interstellar, speed of light craft, would actually be absent for centuries, if not longer, as far as those on Earth were concerned, something that puts another slant on the question all together…

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It may be better if we do not encounter extraterrestrials

Friday, 12 September, 2014

It’s quite possible we on Earth are the first born in terms of intelligent life in the cosmos, given the relatively young age of the universe. It’s something that makes the chances of our ever encountering extraterrestrial life pretty remote, and that may not, surprisingly, be a bad thing:

A message with a more straightforward intent could have equally ruinous effects. It could be a new scientific insight or technological blueprint sent as an item of interstellar trade or détente, but have a destabilizing effect on Earth’s economy. Or a message could contain a philosophical statement interpreted to have religious meaning, triggering conflict and disorder. Even “Is Anyone Out There?” would be problematic – the decision to answer or not could provoke more than just verbal conflict within our species.

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And here’s a shout out to all the residents of Laniakea

Thursday, 11 September, 2014

It’s nice, in a way, to know that the universe is divided into suburbs of sorts, and our galaxy, the Milky Way, is, along with some one hundred thousand of its closest galactic neighbours, part of a region that has been named Laniakea… doesn’t that make the cosmos feel all more homely then?

Astronomers were able to identify the boundaries of Laniakea by charting the flow of more than 8,000 galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. By that yardstick, they discovered that the Milky Way, along 100,000 other galaxies, is sailing toward a region named the Shapley super-cluster.

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