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Archive for February, 2010

A journey from Earth to Mars could eventually take just 39 days.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/28/2010

A journey from Earth to Mars could eventually take just 39 days — cutting current travel time nearly six times — according to a rocket scientist who has the ear of the US space agency.

Franklin Chang-Diaz, a former astronaut and a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says reaching the Red Planet could be dramatically quicker using his high-tech VASIMR rocket, now on track for liftoff after decades of development.

The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket — to give its full name — is quick becoming a centerpiece of NASA’s future strategy as it looks to private firms to help meet the astronomical costs of space exploration.

NASA, still reeling from a political decision to cancel its Constellation program that would have returned a human to the moon by the end of the decade, has called on firms to provide new technology to power rovers or even future manned missions.

Hopes are now pinned on firms like Chang-Diaz’s Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company.

“In the early days… NASA support for the project was rather minimal because the agency did not emphasize advanced technologies as much as it’s doing now,”

NASA was focused instead on the series of Apollo missions that delivered men to the moon for the first, and so far last, times.

“They were mesmerized by the Apollo days and lived in the Apollo era for 40 years, and they just forgot developing something new,” he said.

Chang-Diaz, 60, hopes that “something” is a non-chemical rocket that eventually allow for a manned trip to Mars — long the Holy Grail for Apollonians.

His rocket would use electricity to transform a fuel — likely hydrogen, helium or deuterium — into plasma gas that is heated to 19.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (11 million degrees Celsius). The plasma gas is then channeled into tailpipes using magnetic fields to propel the spacecraft.

That would send a shuttle hurtling toward the moon or Mars at ever faster speeds up to an estimated 35 miles (55 kilometers) per second until the engines are reversed.

Chang-Diaz, a veteran of seven space missions, said this rapid acceleration could allow for trips of just 39 days instead of the current anticipated round trip voyage to Mars that would last three years, including a forced stay of 18 months on the Red Planet, as astronauts await an opening to return to Earth.

The distance between the Earth and Mars varies between 35 and 250 million miles (55 million and 400 million kilometers) depending on their points of orbit.

And the use of ionized fuel could have the extra benefit of helping create a magnetic field around the spacecraft to protect against radiation.

Scaled-down models of the VASIMR craft have been built and tested in a vacuum, under a deal with NASA.

The next major step, according to Chang-Diaz, will be orbital deployment at the end of 2013 of a vessel using the 200-kilowatt prototype VASIMR engine, the VX-200.

Talks are underway with fellow space firms SpaceX and Orbital Science Corp to make that a reality.

Despite the hurdles ahead, Chang-Diaz sees the potential for a vast market for his technology — maintaining and repairing fixing satellites or launching robotic and commercial missions to Mars.

His rocket may just launch NASA’s brave new, commercial, world of space exploration.

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US lab reaches Big Bang heat of four trillion degrees Celsius, 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/28/2010

An aerial view of the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

An aerial view of the Brookhaven National Laborator

US physicists have created matter at around four trillion degrees Celsius, the hottest temperature ever reached in a laboratory, simulating the “quark soup” that scientists believe existed at the universe’s birth.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy lab where the record-breaking temperature was reached said the effect was achieved by slamming together gold ions travelling at nearly the speed of light inside the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) – an “atom smasher” with a 2.4-mile (3.8-kilometer) circumference.

The ultra-high temperature is higher than that needed to melt protons and neutrons into a plasma of quarks and gluons, the substance that filled the universe a few microseconds after it came into existence 13.7 billion years ago, according to the spokesperson.

The plasma of four trillion degrees Celsius (7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit) – 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun – existed for only a few microseconds after the birth of the universe.

It quickly cooled and condensed to form the protons and neutrons that make up everything from individual atoms to stars, planets and people, Brookhaven explained on its website.

The temperature of hot matter is measured by looking at the color, or energy distribution, of light emitted from it – similar to the way in which one can tell that an iron rod is hot by looking at its glow.

The properties of the matter produced at RHIC were determined using highly sophisticated detectors that looked at the particles the matter emitted during its very brief lifetime – less than one billionth of one trillionth of a second.

The US research program will be complemented by studies soon to get underway at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-circumference particle accelerator buried underground on the French-Swiss border near Geneva, the BNL said.

“The LHC will devote a month each year to colliding heavy nuclei at energies much higher than RHIC’s – extending the exploration of matter one step farther back in time toward the birth of the universe,” said the laboratory’s spokesperson..

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Saturn’s Most Habitable Moon Offers Ice

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/27/2010

Enceladus has to be one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system. It’s definitely our favorite of Saturn’s 62 moons here at Wired Science, and it’s among the most likely places to find the necessary ingredients for extraterrestrial life in the solar system.

Enceladus actively spews jets of material from its south pole, forming one of Saturn’s majestic rings. New evidence from the jets suggesting that there is a liquid ocean beneath the moon’s icy crust was published just this week in the journal Icarus.

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which dove through the jets in 2008, showed the plumes contain negatively charged ions, which have only been found on Earth, another Saturnian moon — Titan — and comets. On Earth, negatively charged ions are found where water is moving, such as in a waterfall or a crashing wave. The discovery of the ions in Enceladus’ jets is the best evidence yet of liquid water.

On top of being a possible haven for life, Enceladus is beautiful. Its icy crust is riven with cracks and folds that somehow look both familiar and alien at the same time. Older surfaces have impact craters. The four huge, linear depressions at its south pole known as the tiger stripes are probably less than 1,000 years old and warmer than the rest of the crust, evidence that Enceladus is actively forming ice.

Though it is just over 300 miles in diameter, a tenth the size of Titan, tiny Enceladus has won us over. With Cassini’s new life extension into 2017, and 11 more planned flybys of Enceladus, we can expect more awesome images and enlightening data.

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Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctic glacier

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/26/2010

An iceberg the size of Luxembourg has broken off from a glacier in Antarctica after being rammed by another giant iceberg, scientists said on Friday, in an event that could affect ocean circulation patterns.

The 2,500 sq km (965 sq mile) iceberg broke off earlier this month from the Mertz Glacier’s 160 km (100 miles) floating tongue of ice that sticks out into the Southern Ocean.

The collision has since halved the size of the tongue that drains ice from the vast East Antarctic ice sheet.

“The calving itself hasn’t been directly linked to climate change but it is related to the natural processes occurring on the ice sheet,” said Rob Massom, a senior scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center in Hobart, Tasmania.

Both organizations, along with French scientists, have been studying existing giant cracks in the ice tongue and monitored the bumper-car-like collision by the second iceberg, B-9B.

This 97 km long slab of ice is a remnant of an iceberg of more than 5,000 sq km that broke off, or calved, in 1987, making it one of the largest icebergs ever recorded in Antarctica.

The Mertz glacier iceberg is among the largest recorded for several years. In 2002, a iceberg about 200 km long broke off from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. In 2007, a iceberg roughly the size of Singapore broke off from the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.

Massom said the shearing off of the ice tongue and the presence of the Mertz and B-9B icebergs could affect global ocean circulation.

The area is an important zone for the creation of dense, salty water that is a key driver of global ocean circulation. This is produced in part through the rapid production of sea ice that is continually blown to the west.

“Removal of this tongue of floating ice would reduce the size of that area of open water, which would slow down the rate of salinity input into the ocean and it could slow down this rate of Antarctic bottom water formation,” he said.

He said there was a risk both icebergs would become grounded on banks or shoals in the area, disrupting the creation of the dense, salty water and the amount that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, he said.

Oceans act like a giant flywheel for the planet’s climate by shifting heat around the globe via myriad currents above and below the surface.

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UFO and ET images found in remote cave in India.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/24/2010

A group of anthropologists working with hill tribes in a remote area of India have made a startling discovery: Intricate prehistoric cave paintings depicting aliens and UFO type craft.

The images were found in the Hoshangabad district of the state of Madhya Pradesh only 70 kilometers from the local administrative centre of Raisen. The caves are hidden deep within dense jungle.

A clear image of what might be an alien or ET in a space suit can be seen in one cave painting along with a classical flying saucer shaped UFO that appears to be either beaming something down or beaming something up, in what might be an ancient UFO abduction scenario. A force-field or trail of some sort is seen at the rear of the UFO.

Also visible is another object that might depict a wormhole, explaining how aliens were able to reach Earth. This image may lead UFO enthusiasts to conclude that the images might have been drawn with the involvement of aliens themselves.

Local Archaeologist, Mr Wassim Khan, has personally seen the images. He claims that the objects and creatures seen in them are totally anomalous and out of character when compared to other, already discovered, examples of prehistoric cave art depicting ancient life in the area. As such he believes that they might suggest beings from other planets have been interacting with humans since prehistoric times: Adding weight to the ‘ancient astronaut theory’ which postulates that human civilization was established with the assistance of benevolent space-faring aliens.


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Winston Churchill UFO request revealed

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/20/2010

New documents released by the Government reveal former prime minister Winston Churchill expressed curiosity in “flying saucers” and requested a briefing from his ministers.

The “Churchill Memorandum” sent from the wartime leader on July 28 1952 to Lord Cherwell, secretary of state for air, is one of hundreds of UFO files released by the Ministry of Defence and National Archives.

In the note, Mr Churchill briefly writes: “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience.”

The response to his memo, explained that following an intelligence study conducted in 1951 the “flying saucers” could be explained by “one or other” of the following four causes: Known astronomical or meteorological phenomena; mistaken identification of conventional aircraft, balloons, birds etc; optical illusions and psychological delusions; and deliberate hoaxes.

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Dead Woman Comes Back to Life at funeral home.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/19/2010

‘Corpse’ comes back to life at Colombia funeral home.

BOGOTA — Funeral home workers in the Colombian city of Cali got the shock of a lifetime when an apparently dead 45-year-old woman suddenly started breathing and moving as they prepared her for burial.

Local media said the women had been declared clinically dead at a medical facility Tuesday after having been hospitalized in serious condition with a neurological condition a day earlier.

“The instruments the patient was connected to gave no blood pressure or heart rate readings,” said Miguel Angel Saavedra, a doctor at the clinic where the woman was treated.

Medical staff at the facility signed the women’s death certificate and her body was transferred to a funeral home to be prepared for burial.

About two hours later, funeral home employee Jaime Aullon was just about to inject embalming fluid into Serna’s left leg when he saw her move.

“She was moving her right arm,” he said. “I stopped the procedure and brought her back to the hospital to be treated.”

Noelia Serna, 45, was readmitted to hospital and was in a coma, doctors said.

On rare occasions, a person’s heart rate and breathing can drop to undetectable levels, leading doctors to erroneously declare a patient dead, said neurosurgeon Juan Mendoza Vega, a member of the Colombian National Medical Ethics Board.

Noelia Serna, 45,who has multiple sclerosis, was admitted to the same Cali University Hospital on Monday after a heart attack, hospital director Luis Fernando Rendon said. She survived for about 10 hours on life support, but then seemingly didn’t respond to resuscitation efforts following a second attack. She was declared dead early Tuesday by mistake.

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Pluto’s ice sheets are shifting

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/06/2010

The pictures show icy frozen nitrogen on Pluto’s surface growing and shrinking, brightening in the north and darkening in the south. Astronomers say Pluto’s surface is changing more than the surfaces of other bodies in the solar system. That’s unexpected because a season lasts 120 years in some regions of Pluto.

“It’s a little bit of a surprise to see these changes happening so big and so fast,” said astronomer Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “This is unprecedented.” analysis also found that nitrogen ice was shifting in size and density in surprising ways. It’s horribly cold on Pluto with, paradoxically, the bright spots being the coldest at about -382 degrees Fahrenheit. Astronomers are still arguing about the temperatures of the warm dark spots, which Buie believes may be 30 degrees warmer than the darker areas.

From 1954 to 2000, Pluto didn’t change in color when it was photographed from Earth. But after that, it did. The red levels increased by 20 percent, maybe up to 30 percent, and stabilized from about 2000 to 2002, Buie said.

Buie said he can explain the redness, but not why it changed so dramatically and so recently. The planet has a lot of methane, which contains carbon and hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen gets stripped off by solar winds and other factors, leaving carbon-rich areas on the surface, which tend to be red and dark.

Part of the difficulty in figuring out what is going on with Pluto is that it takes the dwarf planet 248 years to circle the sun, so astronomers don’t know what conditions are like when it’s is farthest from the sun. The last time Pluto was at its farthest point was in 1870, which was decades before Pluto was discovered. Unlike Earth, Pluto’s four seasons aren’t equal lengths of time.

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A puzzling object no longer thought to be a comet.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/05/2010

A puzzling object that seemed to be a comet flying inside the solar system’s asteroid belt is no comet at all, but the remains of a violent collision between two fossil rocks that populate the belt, astronomers say.

The object was first sighted in early January by astronomers at the Air Force LINEAR project telescope in New Mexico, who reported it as a comet that must have flown into the asteroid belt from the solar system’s outer reaches, as all comets do. It was the fifth presumed comet to be reported in the unlikely region, they said, and they gave it the code name P/2010 A2.

The main asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and the strange object was spotted there again later in the month by astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson.

David Jewitt, a leading expert on comets and asteroids at UCLA, was intrigued by the reports of a possible comet inside the asteroid belt where millions of rocky objects fly in orbit around the sun, constantly colliding and grinding each other down.

He quickly obtained time for the Hubble Space Telescope’s wide field camera to home in on the object, and the images showed a stony nucleus just beyond an X-shaped halo of rocky filaments and a long, streaming tail of dust and gravel.

“Its appearance is very, very strange,” Jewitt said in an interview. “Strictly speaking it’s a hybrid – a comet because of its tail, but with no gas in the tail, it has to be a crash between two small asteroids, and we’re seeing it as it happened.”

The collision – which probably happened only a few weeks ago – reduced both bodies to a cluster of smashed-up rocks and gravel that under the radiation pressure of sunlight streamed out into a long, long tail looking just like a comet’s, Jewitt said.

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Pluto’s most detailed set of images ever taken to date

Posted by 3citynewswire on 02/05/2010

NASA today released the most detailed set of images ever taken of the distant dwarf planet Pluto. The images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show an icy and dark molasses-colored, mottled world that is undergoing seasonal changes in its surface color and brightness. Pluto has become significantly redder, while its illuminated northern hemisphere is getting brighter. These changes are most likely consequences of surface ices sublimating on the sunlit pole and then refreezing on the other pole as the dwarf planet heads into the next phase of its 248-year-long seasonal cycle. The dramatic change in color apparently took place in a two-year period, from 2000 to 2002.

The Hubble images will remain our sharpest view of Pluto until NASA’s New Horizons probe is within six months of its Pluto flyby. The Hubble pictures are proving invaluable for picking out the planet’s most interesting-looking hemisphere for the New Horizons spacecraft to swoop over when it flies by Pluto in 2015.

This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. The center disk (180 degrees) has a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute). Photo No. STScI-PR10-06a

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