Friday, February 7, 2014

Controversy about Hawking on black holes and other space and astronomy news

The real top story was NASA and Super Bowl, but something has to lead, so this week I'm revisiting one of the stories from Opportunity and Curiosity in this week's space and astronomy news, the reaction to Stephen Hawking's latest paper on black holes.  KPBS brings its viewers the relevant interview in Explaining Stephen Hawking's New Theory On Black Holes.

Why Stephen Hawking's new theory on black holes is important to everyday people and how the scientific community is reacting to these new ideas.
Also see the accompanying article by Megan Burke and Peggy Pico.
Stephen Hawking, a pioneer in our modern understanding of black-holes, revised his theory on what happens when a star explodes and collapses on itself in a provocative paper published last week.

Jerry Orosz, an associate professor of astronomy at San Diego State University, explains how Hawking's new theory, if true, changes what we know about black holes.

"A black hole is a region of space where the density of matter is so high that nothing escapes, not even light and so the gravitational pull is just too strong for anything to get out," Orosz said.

He said lately physicists have been trying to merge the theory of quantum mechanics with the theory of general relativity.
Oh, boy, a grand unified theory.  That's been an issue for 60 years.  Good luck with that, seriously.

Follow over the jump for more of last week's space and astronomy news.

NASA: Astronaut Class in DC on This Week @NASA

NASA's newest astronaut class was in Washington, DC recently, discussing the future of human exploration and STEM education at the annual White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math address hosted by Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren. The astronaut candidates shared advice and insight with some students at that event and with more students at a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum event that included a live conversation with the International Space Station crew. Also, Russian spacewalk, SLS sound test, LADEE mission extended, GPM briefing, and Day of Remembrance.
NASA: ScienceCasts: The Coolest Spot in the Universe

NASA researchers plan to create the coldest spot in the known Universe--inside the International Space Station. The device, known as the Cold Atom Lab, could discover new forms of matter and novel quantum phenomena.
Hubble Space Telescope: Tonight's Sky: February 2014

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In February, Orion is your guide to a number of fascinating objects. The North Star Polaris Is Getting Brighter
by Nola Taylor Redd, Contributor
January 28, 2014 06:41am ET
The North Star has remained an eternal reassurance for northern travelers over the centuries. But recent and historical research reveals that the ever-constant star is actually changing.

After dimming for the last few decades, the North Star is beginning to shine brightly again. And over the last two centuries, the brightening has become rather dramatic.

"It was unexpected to find," Scott Engle of Villanova University in Pennsylvania told Engle investigated the fluctuations of the star over the course of several years, combing through historical records and even turning the gaze of the famed Hubble Space Telescope onto the star. First-Ever Weather Map of Failed Star Reveals Patchy Alien Clouds
by Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer
January 29, 2014 01:01pm ET
Scientists have created the first weather map of a space oddity known as a brown dwarf, revealing a rare glimpse at alien weather patterns on the failed, wannabe star.

The map shows the weather on the surface of WISE J104915.57-531906.1B (called Luhman 16B for short), the nearest brown dwarf to Earth at 6.5 light-years away. Scientists mapped the light and dark features of the failed star's surface, according to officials with the European Southern Observatory, whose Very Large Telescope in Chile contributed to the new science. You can take video tour of the brown dwarf and its weather map on

Brown dwarfs are called failed stars because they are larger than gas giant planets like Jupiter, yet still too small to produce nuclear fusion like a true star. Scientists have only found a few hundred of the odd objects, with the first confirmed 20 years ago, ESO officials said. NASA Sees Comet That Will Buzz Mars This Year (Photo)
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer
January 30, 2014 01:10pm ET
NASA is keeping a keen and cautious eye on a comet that will have a close encounter with Mars in October, coming much closer to the Red Planet than the moon is to Earth.

Comet Siding Spring will approach within 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) of Mars on Oct. 19, potentially putting on a good show for NASA's Red Planet spacecraft. But the dust shed by the comet as it barrels toward the sun may also endanger the agency's Mars orbiters, so officials are already mapping out possible risk-mitigation plans.

"Our plans for using spacecraft at Mars to observe Comet Siding Spring will be coordinated with plans for how the orbiters will duck and cover, if we need to do that," Rich Zurek, Mars Exploration Program chief scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. Asteroid Belt Reveals Drama of Early Solar System Evolution
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer
January 29, 2014 01:01pm ET
A better understanding of the asteroid belt has revealed just how dynamic the solar system was in its early days, a new study reports.

Over the past decade, astronomers have come to realize that the asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter are incredibly diverse in size and composition. This diversity dashes earlier notions that the space rocks all formed where they now sit, instead implying that they were scattered here and there by migrating planets in the first billion years of solar-system history.

"In modern dynamical models, the giant planets are thought to have migrated over substantial distances, shaking up the asteroids — which formed throughout the solar system — like flakes in a snow globe, and transporting some of them to their current locations in the asteroid belt," Francesca DeMeo and Benoit Carry, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Paris Observatory, respectively, write in a study published online today (Jan. 29) in the journal Nature. "The main asteroid belt thus samples the conditions across the entire solar system." On Mars, NASA's Curiosity Rover Seeks Smoother Road to Reduce Wheel Damage
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer
January 30, 2014 02:30pm ET
NASA engineers are looking for ways to reduce the wear and tear on the Mars rover Curiosity's wheels, which have accumulated an increasing number of dings and punctures over the last few months.

Curiosity's handlers are driving the 1-ton rover more cautiously now and are checking the condition of its wheels frequently, NASA officials said. The rover team is also considering sending Curiosity over a 3-foot-tall (1 meter) sand dune soon to access a potentially smoother, less rocky route to its ultimate science destination, the foothills of the towering Mount Sharp.

"The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check," Curiosity project manager Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.
That's it for the week's space news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (NASA and Super Bowl).

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