News, Space

NASA can only make three more Plutonium batteries to power spacecraft in space

Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Image: NASA

According to the Department of Energy, the plutonium-238 stockpile is enough to make only three more nuclear batteries. These are used to power long-term space missions, like Curiosity rover now studying Mars on site, the Voyager probes which were launched in the 1970s and are now almost out of the solar system or New Horizon which is close to making the first Pluto flyby in history. New Horizon is also the fastest spacecraft ever built, racing at one million miles per day. All these remarkable achievements were made possible thanks to plutonium-238 and the technology developed to harness its heat.

News, Observations, Space

Pluto – now in color, courtesy of New Horizon

Pluto and Charon. Image: NASA

These two dim dots are none other than Pluto, the dwarf plant, and Charon, its largest moon. Though it might not look like much, this is the first ever colored photograph of the two cosmic bodies ever taken. We have NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to thank for this, which used its Ralph color imager to make the shot from 71 million miles away.

News, Space

SpaceX misses rocket landing by a hair’s breath – Dragon successfully launched, though

spacex landing

Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT) carrying the Dragon capsule to orbit, on slate for its rendezvous with the International Space Station where it’s tasked with a resupply mission. Instead of dropping in the ocean like the gazillion other rockets before it, the first stage of Falcon was programmed to make a controlled landing on a “autonomous spaceport drone ship.” The rocket did land on the spaceport, which is amazing in itself, but unfortunately it flipped over post landing and was damaged beyond repair. So, just almost!

News, Observations, Physics, Space

First dark matter map spots the invisible substance that might help form galaxies

The map traces the distribution of dark matter across a portion of the sky. The color scale represents projected mass density: red and yellow represent regions with more dense matter.

This is the first map in a series of maps that will be stitched together to form a grand picture of how dark matter is distributed across the Universe. Dark matter is basically invisible, which is why it’s called dark in the first place, so scientists rely on indirect observations like the gravitational effects it poses to locate and map it. What we’re seeing now is only 3% of the area of sky that the Dark Energy Survey (DES) will document over its slated five-year-long mission.

Astronomy, News, Space

Dwarf Planet Ceres reveals its colors, but keeps its secrets

Infrared images suggest that Spot 1 (top row), an area on Ceres, is made of ice. But the pair of bright gleams known as Spot 5 were invisible to an infrared camera (bottom right). Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft already has an impressive resume – it’s traveled to the strange area between Mars and Jupiter and managed to start orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, even though Ceres measures only 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter and has a very small gravitational field. But it’s not stopping just yet – after previously revealing a number of black and white pictures, Dawn has now provided a color photograph, but here’s the thing – it poses more questions than it answers.

Astrophysics, News, Space

There’s a good chance Mars has liquid water

Image credits University of Copenhagen.

Researchers have long known that Mars has water in the form of ice, but now, after years and years of research, we might finally have the decisive clue that our planetary neighbor has liquid water on its surface. The key find was perchlorate – a substance that significantly lowers the freezing point, so that water doesn’t freeze into ice, but remains liquid and briny.

Astronomy, Geology, News

Mars has giant belts of glaciers, Danish researchers claim

Mars may have many non-polar glaciers.

Astronomers have known for quite a while that Mars has distinct polar ice caps, but the Red Planet might also have belts of glaciers at its central latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres. These huge glaciers are covered by a thick layer of dust which masks them and makes them seem like they are actually part of the surface of the ground.

News, Observations, Space

The sun goes through quasi-seasonal changes, a find that could help protect power grids back on Earth

Solar flare

Just like our own planet, the sun goes through seasonal changes in its activity, waxing and waning over the course of nearly two years driven by changes in newly discovered bands of strong magnetic fields. This variability helps shape the sun’s long-term 11 year cycle, yet again part of a longer cycle that lasts 22 days. Largely unpredictable, the sun constantly spews highly charged particles known as coronal mass ejections which can severely affect power grids, satellites and even airplane passengers. During its seasonal peaks, however, the sun is much more prone to solar storms, so understanding how this cyclic variability happens is key to averting a potential disaster.

Alien life, Astronomy, News

NASA: we’ll find alien life in 10-20 years

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When it comes to alien life, we’ve had our hopes crushed time and time again. As the Moon was being observed with telescopes in medieval times, many thought it might be inhabited, but then we learned there’s not atmosphere and no water on it. Then Venus, our sister planet turned out to be completely unsuitable for life, and even Mars seems to

Alien life, Biology

British professor claims he found alien life floating 25 miles above Earth

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Dr. Milton Wainwright is trying to convince the world that the found alien life floating some 25 miles in our planet’s atmosphere – but while tabloids gobbled up his story like no tomorrow, the scientific community is much more reluctant to accept his results. Is there any truth to these claims? Let’s have a look. If you’d actually find life at