Wow. It’s been quite an exciting week in astronomy, with the passing of NASA’s much-needed budget proposal, the preparation of the shuttle Discovery for its final flight, China’s successful launch of its second lunar mission just this past Friday… and, of course, the monumental announcement of the discovery of a potentially Earthlike planet in another solar system! This is definitely a fascinating time for anyone interested in all things astro, and so I am honored to present this week’s installment of Universe Today’s Carnival of Space! Roll up, and enjoy the show!
(Click headlines for links to feature articles.)
In a great opening show for this Carnival of Space, The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla takes us on a tour of the planets in her article What’s Up in the Solar System in October 2010. Exploration missions abound, from Deep Impact heading for a cometary rendezvous on November 4 to China’s Chang’E 2 robotic lunar orbiter launched last Friday and many more currently in play from NASA, ESA and JAXA. Be sure to check out the illustration by reader Olaf Frohn showing current and future exploration spacecraft in position around the solar system!
The last fuel tank for Endeavor’s final STS-134 mission arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this past week. 154 feet long, the orange tank traveled 900 miles by barge from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans after restoration by Lockheed Martin. See photos of the supersized preparation and transportation process on collectSPACE’s photo gallery.
Ok, so we haven’t encountered any alien civilizations…yet. Whether we ever do or not depends upon a lot of factors, but one thing is for certain: any alien race will most likely be on a different level of advancement than ours. Chris Dann describes the Kardashev scale of measuring the advancement of a potential civilization on Weirdwarp (spoiler: um…we don’t score very high.)
Software Development Manager for the Chandra X-ray Observatory’s data system group, Janet DePonte Evans discusses her beginnings in the field of computer science and astronomy and how her career has evolved over the years, culminating in her current position as Data Systems team manager. Chandra is NASA’s flagship X-ray observatory; orbiting the Earth at an altitude of over 86,000 miles it is specially designed to detect X-ray emission from very hot regions of the universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and around black holes.
The Urban Astronomer Allen Versfeld takes us to Mars, detailing the origins of the red planet’s bellicose namesake and comparing them to the rusty reality of our planetary next-door neighbor.
On her blog we are all in the gutter University of Nottingham post-doc researcher Emma goes into detail about CCD imaging components and how they work, how they are affected by cosmic radiation and how Hubble imaging team members have had to devise a way to eliminate unwanted image artifacts that distort views of distant galaxies.
On Cheap Astronomy Steve Nerlich talks about the technology behind space elevators in his latest podcast. A concept that’s been around for a while, space elevators would theoretically simplify the transportation of objects and people into orbit…that is, once the technology to manufacture them is created. (Anyone have a spare 36,000 km of boron nitrite nanotubing laying around?)
Dr. Paul D. Spudis introduces us to 3D images without special glasses in a process called “free viewing”. Once learned, this allows you to view split 3D images in their native color in the same way that geologists do when looking at features on the Moon. I’m going to have to use my imagination on this one, since I’ve never managed to get 3D images to work very well for me. Check out his article on Smithsonian’s Air & Space blog, you’ll probably have more luck with it than I did!
Ken Murphy gives a compelling review of newly published science fiction novel Shadow on the Moon by Charles Lee Lesher. Set in 2092, the story follows Lazarus, a homeland security analyst who finds himself caught in a struggle between fundamentalist religious societies on Earth and an atheistic surveillance state established on the Moon. There’s a lot going on in this 500-page paperback and Ken does a great job summing it up for us…be sure to read the review on his blog, Out of the Cradle.
At Next Big Future, Brian Wang reports on the development of a theoretical warp drive engine that could propel a spaceship up to one-quarter the speed of light! The Alcubierre Warp Drive would stretch spacetime in a wave shape, causing the space in front of the ship to contract (thus making distances “closer”) and the space behind expand, allowing the ship to literally “surf” through space. (Don’t pack your bags for Gliesean beaches just yet…some testing is still required.) And if high energy bills are eating into your space development budget, Brian has an answer for that too: satellites that can harness power directly from the solar wind and beam it where needed, in the realm of, oh, say 100 billion times current world energy needs! <Doctor Evil pinky> Warp drives, beaming energy…I have a feeling I might want to bone up on my tridimensional chess skills…
Ok class, get out your scientific calculators! Engineer Bruce Leeeowe details the theoretical use of varying types of black holes (yes, they come in different hypothetical flavors) to power particle accelerators. Whether it’s a Kaluza-Klein, Kerr or your traditional Schwarzchild (not advised) infinitely dense point, your next accelerator may be run by one. ;) They’re possibly the universe’s most enigmatic objects and you can read more about them on WeirdSciences.net!
Now let’s take a moment to wax poetic with Stuart Atkinson’s latest bit of verse, Oileán Ruiadh and Her Sisters, an ode to the metallic meteorites scattered across the Martian dunes. They’ve traveled the distances between the planets to rest on the rusted sands of Mars, waiting patiently for millennia to be found by Earth’s inquisitive emissary, Opportunity. Enjoy Stu’s poems and lots more images and information from Opportunity on The Road to Endeavour!
And, not to ignore the elephant in the room (who thankfully didn’t eat all the pies), the following articles all deal with the recently announced news of a rocky planet orbiting red dwarf star Gliese 581 within its habitable zone, a topic that is stirring up lots of buzz in the scientific and lay communities alike – some ebullient, some hesitant, some skeptical, but all seemingly in agreement that this could be the beginning of a new exciting era in exoplanet discovery!
At Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster discusses what it means to be in “the Goldilocks zone”, a region around a star that is “just right” for life as we know it to evolve, as well as clarifying the difference (it can get blurry in all the media noise) between habitable and inhabited. An important distinction that scientists and reporters need to keep in mind!
The Spacewriter Carolyn Collins Petersen also warns us to watch out for overblown reports about exoplanet discoveries on her latest post Finding a Habitable Planet. People are easily excitable, and journalists know this all too well…
Dr. Bruce Cordell gives an in-depth review of what we might expect to encounter on planet Gliese 581g (while carefully refraining from joining the ranks of “early ebullients”) on his space colonization blog 21st Century Waves.
Bruce Leeeowe again does what he does best: provide specific details on what sort of life could have evolved on the newly discovered Gliese 581g. Making comparisons to extremophile bacteria known to exist on Earth, he makes a compelling case for similar forms of life to exist on another Earthlike planet. Hey, if it happened here, it stands to reason it could happen somewhere else! (Or lots of other places…)
On The Meridiani Journal, Paul Scott Anderson also reports on the discovery of Gliese 581g, as well as the upcoming confirmation of Kepler 9d, another recently identified exoplanet 1.5 times the size of Earth.
When you’re a tidally-locked planet in orbit around a red dwarf star, things are going to work a bit differently for you than they do on Earth. Markus Hammonds discusses these key differences in his post about Gliese 581g on Supernova Condensate – an astroblog that reminds us that we are all made of stars – red, yellow or otherwise.
If you’ve had enough of talk about aliens for one day, here’s a bit of respite for you: Bruce Leeeowe debunks ghost photography and the existence of identifiable spirits that walk our world on WeirdSciences.net. Just in time for Halloween too! (Tell ’em about the Twinkie…)
That’s it for this edition of the Carnival of Space! Hope you enjoyed it…with so much going on in, around and outside our solar system it can be hard to know where to look sometimes, but it’s always a good idea to keep looking up!
You can check out all the previous editions on Universe Today here.
Main image © Jason Major. Source: I used images taken during the 2008 Texas State Fair of the fairway and city skyline, combined with Cassini raw image data in the spectral RGB filters and finally a Hubble image of the Large Magellanic Cloud for the stars. Composed in Photoshop CS4.