Saturday, August 2, 2014

NASA's next giant leap and other space and astronomy news

One of the reasons I follow space exploration news is what I wrote in Progress on Orion and other space and astronomy news.
A recurring theme of this blog is my fear that the United States is acting out one of the great tragic tropes of science fiction--turning its back on space as part of its decline as a civilization, which I explored most recently in Space News for the second and third year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News.  Therefore, I'm interested in any signs that the U.S. will resume independent crewed spaceflight, if for no other reason than to rub the naysayers noses in it, as I wrote in Mars, solar flares, and this month's stargazing in this week's space and astronomy news.
NASA provided another sign of hope last week in NASA's Next Giant Leap.

It was 45 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. The Apollo missions blazed a path for human exploration to the moon and today NASA is taking its Next Giant Leap to near-Earth asteroids, Mars and beyond. As we develop and test the new tools of 21st century spaceflight on the human path to Mars, we once again will change the course of history.
The event was also mentioned in NASA: Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation on This Week @NASA.

There was more celebration of Apollo 11’s 45th anniversary at several events around the country – and more opportunity for the agency to highlight its “next giant leap” to send humans to Mars. Those events included a ceremony during which Kennedy Space Center’s Operations and Checkout Building was renamed on July 21, in honor of Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, who passed away in 2012. The facility, which was used to process and test Apollo spacecraft, is now being used to assemble NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Also, ISS astronauts appear in the House, Space station cargo ships, Extreme underwater mission underway, RS-25 Engine installed for testing, and more!
Follow over the jump for more general space news along with stories from deep space to the inner Solar System.

DarkSyde on Daily Kos included more space news along with the week's science news highlights in This week in science: the good ole days.  Also on Daily Kos, Hunter reported Creationist Ken Ham: End the space program or go to Hell.  As far as I'm concerned, Ham's the one who can go to Hell.

Now, here are the rest of the space and astronomy news stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (ISIS blows up Jonah's Tomb) on Daily Kos.

Science at NASA: Big Mystery in the Perseus Cluster

A mysterious X-ray signal from the Perseus cluster of galaxies, which researchers say cannot be explained by known physics, could be a key clue to the nature of Dark Matter.
University of Washington: Sloan Digital Sky Survey — including UW — now to view entire sky
July 18, 2014
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, of which the University of Washington is part, will soon see the entire sky, and even peer into the Milky Way’s galactic center.

The sky survey, called SDSS for short, is a multi-institution group of astronomers who since 2000 have searched the skies with the 100-inch, wide-angle optical telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

“We have mapped the large-scale structure of the universe, traced out previously unknown structures in the Milky Way, and made unanticipated discoveries from asteroids in our own solar system to the most distant quasars,” said Michael Blanton, an astrophysicist with New York University and director of the new phase of the survey.
Red Orbit: The Most Precise Measurement Of An Alien World’s Size
Whitney Claven
July 24, 2014
Thanks to NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, is now known to an uncertainty of just 74 miles (119 kilometers) on either side of the planetary body.

The findings confirm Kepler-93b as a “super-Earth” that is about one-and-a-half times the size of our planet. Although super-Earths are common in the galaxy, none exist in our solar system. Exoplanets like Kepler-93b are therefore our only laboratories to study this major class of planet.

With good limits on the sizes and masses of super-Earths, scientists can finally start to theorize about what makes up these weird worlds. Previous measurements, by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, had put Kepler-93b’s mass at about 3.8 times that of Earth. The density of Kepler-93b, derived from its mass and newly obtained radius, indicates the planet is in fact very likely made of iron and rock, like Earth.
Science at NASA: ScienceCasts: One Year to Pluto

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is only a year away from Pluto. Researchers are buzzing with anticipation as NASA prepares to encounter a new world for the first time in decades.
Discovery News: How Salt Might Be The Key To Finding Life on Mars

In our ongoing search for liquid water on Mars, scientists are now thinking that salt might be the key! How will salt change the game? Amy Shira Teitel joins DNews to discuss the history of searching for life on Mars, and how we plan on looking in the future!
That's it for the previous week's space and astronomy stories.  Time to gather the ones for this week.

ETA: For those of you interested in Orion's first test flight today, click on the link!

ETA2: For coverage of the actual flight, Orion mission looks like a success.

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