astroengine writes "Despite the assurances that the holes seen in Mars rover Curiosity's wheels were just a part of the mission, there seems to be increasing concern for the wheels' worsening condition after the one-ton robot rolled over some craggy terrain. In an upcoming drive, rover drivers will monitor the six wheels over some smooth terrain to assess their condition. "We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," said Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 'Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so.' Although the wheels are designed to sustain significant damage without impairing driving activities, the monitoring of the situation is essential for future planning."
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The Bad Astronomer writes "On December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts saw the Earth rising over the limb of the Moon. The photo they took of this moment — dubbed Earthrise — has become an icon of our need to explore, and to protect our home world. NASA has just released a video explaining how the astronauts were able to capture this unique moment, which included a dash of both coincidence and fast teamwork."
KentuckyFC writes "The universe today is filled with beautiful spiral galaxies — but it hasn't always been this way. In the early universe, there were no spiral galaxies, raising an interesting question: when did galaxies get their spirals, and how did they emerge? Now astronomers have the answer, thanks to an analysis of galaxies in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope known as the Ultra Deep Field. This shows some 10,000 galaxies of various ages. By ordering a subset of these by type and by age, astronomers have worked out how and when spirals must have evolved. It turns out the first spiral galaxies were simple two-armed structures and appeared when the universe was about 3.8 billion years old. But they say the universe had to wait until it was 8 billion years old before more complex multi-armed galaxies emerged, like the Milky Way and Andromeda."
MarkWhittington writes "With the Chang'e 3 and its rover Jade Rabbit safely ensconced on the lunar surface, the question arises: is it time to start dividing up the moon and its resources? It may well be an issue by the middle of the current century. With China expressing interest in exploiting lunar resources and a number of private companies, such Moon Express, working for the same goal, a mechanism for who gets what is something that needs looking into. Moon Daily quotes a Russian official as suggesting that it can all be done in a civilized manner, through international agreements. On the other hand, law professor and purveyor of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds suggests that China might spark a moon race by having a private company claim at least parts of the moon. 'International cooperation will certainly rule supreme while there are no economic interests, while it is not clear where commercial profits lie. Scientists can't help communicating with each other and sharing ideas.'"
mrspoonsi writes "BBC Reports: 'Europe has launched the Gaia satellite — one of the most ambitious space missions in history. The 740m-euro (£620m) observatory lifted off from the Sinnamary complex in French Guiana at 06:12 local time (09:12 GMT). Gaia is going to map the precise positions and distances to more than a billion stars. This should give us the first realistic picture of how our Milky Way galaxy is constructed. Gaia's remarkable sensitivity will lead also to the detection of many thousands of previously unseen objects, including new planets and asteroids. Gaia will use this ultra-stable and supersensitive optical equipment to pinpoint its sample of stars with extraordinary confidence. By repeatedly viewing its targets over five years, it should get to know the brightest stars' coordinates down to an error of just seven micro-arcseconds. "This angle is equivalent to the size of a euro coin on the Moon as seen from Earth," explained Prof Alvaro Gimenez, Esa's director of science.'"
astroengine writes "New measurements of the electron have confirmed, to the smallest precision attainable, that it has a perfect roundness. This may sounds nice for the little electron, but to one of the big physics theories beyond the standard model, it's very bad news. 'We know the Standard Model does not encompass everything,' said physicist David DeMille, of Yale University and the ACME collaboration, in a press release. 'Like our LHC colleagues, we're trying to see something in the lab that's different from what the Standard Model predicts.' Should supersymmetrical particles exist, they should have a measurable effect on the electron's dipole moment. But as ACME's precise measurements show, the electron still has zero dipole moment (as predicted by the standard model) and is likely very close to being perfectly round. Unfortunately for the theory of supersymmetry, this is yet another blow."
astroengine writes "Astronomers scoping-out the vicinity of the famous star Fomalhaut have discovered that its mysterious stellar sister is also sporting a rather attractive ring of comets. Located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, Fomalhaut A is one of the brightest stars in Southern Hemisphere skies. The bright blue giant is notable in that it hosts a gigantic ring of cometary debris and dust. Fomalhaut C is a red dwarf star and was only confirmed to be gravitationally bound Fomalhaut A and Fomalhaut B in October. Fomalhaut is therefore a triple, or trinary, star system. The small red dwarf star may be the proverbial runt of the Fomalhaut stellar litter, but it appears to share some common ground with its larger sibling. 'It's very rare to find two comet belts in one system, and with the two stars 2.5 light years apart this is one of the most widely separated star systems we know of,' said astronomer Grant Kennedy, of the University of Cambridge and lead researcher of this work. 'It made us wonder why both Fomalhaut A and C have comet belts, and whether the belts are related in some way.' One of the reasons why Fomalhaut A's cometary disk is so bright is down to the presence of its exoplanet, stirring up comet collisions. Fomalhaut C may be experiencing the same mechanism."
sfcrazy writes "Apart from being involved in open source through software, Google promotes the open source model through its various media channels and participation in open source events across the globe. One such initiative has been their affiliation with the Open Invention Network patent pool (OIN). 'Linux now powers nearly all the world's supercomputers, runs the International Space Station, and forms the core of Android. But as open source has proliferated, so have the threats against it, particularly using patents. That's why we're expanding our participation in Open Invention Network, becoming the organization's first new full board member since 2007."
The ISS has been operating at partial capacity after a coolant pump malfunctioned last week. NASA has now announced the repair mission: "NASA currently plans for two Expedition 38 astronauts to venture outside the space station Dec. 21, 23, and 25. NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins will remove a pump module that has a failed valve. They will replace it with an existing spare that is stored on an external stowage platform. The pump is associated with one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. Each of the three spacewalks will begin at 7:10 a.m. and is scheduled to last six and a half hours. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:15 a.m." NASA TV will be airing a preview of the space walks at 3 p.m. EST. As a result of the coolant pump malfunction and the repairs, NASA has also delayed the launch of Orbital Sciences' cargo resupply mission until at least mid-January.
With his popular Getting Started in Electronics, and Engineer's Mini-Notebook series and a number of different electronics kits sold at Radio Shack, Forrest Mims inspired countless scientists and engineers. Even though he received no formal academic training in science, Forrest has appeared in 70 magazines and scientific journals. He has worked as a consultant for the National Geographic Society, the National Science Teachers Association, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Today, Mims works on many scientific projects including climate change research. He's agreed to answer all your questions about science and engineering. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
Zothecula writes "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. NASA is carrying out initial tests on a new, lighter spacesuit for use by the crew of the Orion spacecraft that is currently under development. The tests are being carried out in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on a modified version of the pumpkin orange suit normally worn by Space Shuttle crews during liftoff and re-entry and is a return to a space suit design of the 1960s."
After the successful soft landing of its carrier vessel on the surface of the moon, China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover has begun beaming back photos of the lunar surface. From the BBC's article, with links to video as well as several photos, comes this description: "Chang'e-3 is the third unmanned rover mission to touch down on the lunar surface, and the first to go there in more than 40 years. The last was an 840kg (1,900lb) Soviet vehicle known as Lunokhod-2, which was kept warm by polonium-210. But the six-wheeled Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust. The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can reportedly climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour. ... The rover and lander are powered by solar panels but some sources suggest they also carry radioisotope heating units (RHUs), containing plutonium-238 to keep them warm during the cold lunar night. According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise. It will also scout valuable mineral resources that could one day be mined."
mbstone writes "Scientists at the University College of London — where argon was originally discovered in 1894 — have now found spectroscopic signatures of molecules of argon hydride (ArH), said to be produced via explosive nucleosynthesis in a core-collapse supernova in the Crab Nebula. The post-supernova molecular dust was observed by the Herschel Space Observatory shortly before it ran out of coolant in April.."
SpaceX and NASA have reached an agreement (though negotiations on the details are ongoing) for the private space company to lease NASA's launch pad 39A. SpaceX rival Blue Origin had also sought the launch pad for its own use. From the article: "During the selection process, Blue Origin had filed a petition to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The spaceflight company was claiming that NASA was favoring single-use of the launch pad which was designed as a multi-user facility. ... The GAO decided on Thursday that the petition has no basis, which prompted NASA to proceed with its decision process. The next day, the space agency informed both companies that it is granting the exclusive lease to SpaceX."
China's Chang'e 3 moon probe made its intended landing earlier today, setting down softly in the moon's Sinus Iridum, as reported by Reuters. From the article: "The Chang'e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys. ... China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast images of the probe's location on Saturday and a computer generated image of the probe on the surface of the moon on its website. The probe and the rover are expected to photograph each other tomorrow. ... The Bay of Rainbows was selected because it has yet to be studied, has ample sunlight and is convenient for remote communications with Earth, Xinhua said. The rover will be remotely controlled by Chinese control centers with support from a network of tracking and transmission stations around the world operated by the European Space Agency (ESA)."
savuporo writes "The Chinese Chang'e-3 probe will be landing on the moon [Saturday], 13:40 UTC. CCTV is likely to carry the event live as they did for initial launch. According to technical overview of the mission scenario and instruments, the landing will be fully autonomous with active landing hazard avoidance, which is the first time this has been attempted on any planetary landing. More real-time updates can be found on Twitter with ChangE3 hash tag and NASASpaceFlight forums live event section."
New submitter radioedit writes "When the MAVEN orbiter arrives at Mars on 22 September 2014, the spacecraft will join up with the other seven nodes of NASA's interplanetary internet, exchanging data with orbiters, rovers on the surface, and us back on Earth using delay-tolerant protocols. It's the latest part of Vint Cerf's mission (video) to create a giant antenna array across the solar system that'll be able to receive signals by laser from Alpha Centauri."
astroengine writes "In research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers documented the anomalous spin rate of a pulsar that has been observed 'multiple times' between 1988 and 2012. In September 2005, the spin rate of the well-observed PSR J0738-4042 changed and a team of astronomers headed by Paul Brook, of the University of Oxford, think they know why. 'The data lead us to postulate that we are witnessing an encounter with an asteroid or in-falling debris from a disk,' they write in a paper published to the arXiv pre-print service. The moral of the story? It's not just black holes that get the asteroid munchies."
astroengine writes "Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found plumes of water vapor shooting off the southern pole of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that is believed to have an underground ocean. If confirmed — so far the plumes have only been spotted once — the finding could have implications for the moon's suitability for life and help explain why its surface appears relatively young and crater-free. "The plumes are incredibly exciting, if they are there. They're bringing up material from in the ocean, perhaps there's organic material that will be laying on the surface of the south pole. Those are the things that we want to know about," James Green, head of NASA's planetary science programs, told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco on Thursday."
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "Google has fixed a vulnerability, first discovered by researcher Gergely Kalman, which let users search for credit card numbers by using hex number ranges. However, Google should have acknowledged or at least responded to the original bug finder (and possibly even paid him a bounty for it), and should have been more transparent about the process in general." Read on for the rest of the story.