I don’t know Warren Ellis’ work, but I like his verve. This _Mother Board_ interview is quite good. His assessment of the political pandering to the current space industry strikes me as the product of a long-time observer who deserves a listen.
The comet Lovejoy flew through the sun’s atmosphere a few days ago and survived. The event was captured by a whole fleet of Terran spacecraft: the comet’s survival was an open question. The NASA story has all the details, as well as Lovejoy’s history.
Trash bag air craft. Essentially it’s a variation of the weather balloons with digital cameras that a number of schools and individuals have lofted. This one goes the extra mile, in terms of cost savings, and figures out how to get lift out of trash bags. (Go, Manuja Gunaratne, go.)
The [news out of Denmark](http://news.ku.dk/all_news/2011/2010.8/moon-younger-than-we-thought/), where scientists there have gathered around a lunar rock brought back by Apollo 16, is that the moon is 200 million years younger than was previously thought. That moves the age of the moon up from 4.57 billion years to 4.36 billion years.
By the way, in case you were wondering, I have no idea how this impacts the theory that the moon is basically a big magma spitball shot out of the ocean of magma that was the Earth as the solar system was first forming — it got spit out when something else hit the Earth.
Apparently this puts the moon’s crust at relatively the same age as the Earth’s crust from around Australia.
[SpaceX](http://www.spacex.com/index.php) has a November flight to the International Space Station scheduled. This is totally cool. I don’t think I was alone in worrying that in ending the shuttle fleet, the USA would be in the dangerous position of handing over its LEO operations to the Russians or others.
It’s not that I am narrowly nationalistic, but I am also a lover of space, in particular the human exploration of space, and I didn’t want to see that opportunity slip so far away that I couldn’t dream a little dream.
So then I read this morning about the SpaceX scheduled flight, and I realized that I want to work for someone like that. Unfortunately, the only job opening they have available right now, for someone with my skills and experience, is copywriter. *Hmmm.* Not very appealing right now.
And so my plan is to get _Genius Loci_ out, and get _The Makers of Things_ underway and send Elon Musk a copy and suggest that what he needs is an official documentarian, an organizational ethographer, for SpaceX. Someone who can write about the company and its mission, as well as for it.
And, Mr. Musk, if you ever read this: I mean it.
Astronaut Ron Garan posted the photograph below to his Twitter account. It’s a Perseid meteor streaking towards the Earth, not quite how we usually see them.
Two new brown dwarfs have been discovered relatively close to to our solar system. Spotted by astronomers from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), the “failed stars”* are only 15 and 18 light-years from the sun. 15 and 18 light-years may not seem that close — after all, the nearest bona fide star to the sun, red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is a mere four light-years away. But if these discoveries continue it may not be long until a brown dwarf, and not Proxima, is found to be our nearest stellar neighbor.
Brown dwarfs are often referred to as “failed stars” as they are not massive enough to support nuclear fusion in their cores, and yet they cannot be called “planets” as they don’t exhibit chemical differentiation with depth and have convective flows — a very star-like quality. Therefore, they exist in a stellar hinterland, where they are neither a star or a planet, and yet exhibit characteristics of both.
It looks like NASA is trying to get back into the game. I have no idea how this is different from the Orion system that was recently cancelled. It is, however, important to understand the significance of getting past low earth orbit, LEO: it’s a matter of getting out of our planet’s gravity well.
A NASA probe orbiting Earth has confirmed two key predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity causes masses to warp space-time around them.
The Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission was launched in 2004 to study two aspects of Einstein’s theory about gravity: the geodetic effect, or the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, which describes the amount of space and time a spinning objects pulls with it as it rotates.
Gravity Probe B used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the two gravitational hypotheses. The probe confirmed both effects with unprecedented precision by pointing its instruments at a single star called IM Pegasi.
If gravity did not affect space and time, GP-B’s gyroscopes would always point in the same direction while the probe was in polar orbit around Earth. However, the gyroscopes experienced small but measurable changes in the direction of their spin while Earth’s gravity pulled at them, thereby confirming Einstein’s theories.
Neal Stephenson has a terrific essay in Slate on the history of rockets and human space exploration and how their centrality has come perhaps to limit our ability to see other possibilities. I know it is debatable whether or not there are other capable lift technologies, but I find his reduction of history, in order to illuminate its arbitrariness, quite compelling.
Here’s a mid-essay summary that Stephenson himself offers:
To recap, the existence of rockets big enough to hurl significant payloads into orbit was contingent on the following radically improbable series of events:
- World’s most technically advanced nation under absolute control of superweapon-obsessed madman
- Astonishing advent of atomic bombs at exactly the same time
- A second great power dominated by secretive, superweapon-obsessed dictator
- Nuclear/strategic calculus militating in favor of ICBMs as delivery system
- Geographic situation of adversaries necessitating that ICBMs must have near-orbital capability
- Manned space exploration as propaganda competition, unmoored from realistic cost/benefit discipline
The above circumstances provide a remarkable example of path dependency. Had these contingencies not obtained, rockets with orbital capability would not have been developed so soon, and when modern societies became interested in launching things into space they might have looked for completely different ways of doing so.
Students for the Exploration and Development of Space has chapters around the country and is focused, obviously, on space but also on creating a culture of curiosity and collaboration: while many of the chapters are based in universities, and include both graduate and undergraduate students, they also appear to be open to secondary school (and maybe primary school) students getting involved. Do I hope my daughter may one day pursue her interest in being the first princess governor of Saturn through SEDS? Oh, yes.
Thierry Legault traveled to Oman to capture a double partial eclipse of the sun by both the moon and the International Space Station. The spectacular photo — with the ISS so tiny, reminding me of the scale of the solar system — is at [his website](http://legault.perso.sfr.fr/eclipse110104_solar_transit.html).
ReelNASA has a tour of the crew quarters of, and by, Commander Scott Kelly. I can’t figure out how to embed the video, but here is a link.