Category: NASA

The EmDrive, NASA’s ‘Impossible&rs…

The EmDrive, NASA’s ‘Impossible’ Space Engine, Really Is Impossible

“Tajmar’s results are exactly what you’d expect for the systematic error explanation: with a properly shielded apparatus, with no additional electromagnetic fields induced by the wires, there is no observed thrust at any power. They conclude that these induced fields by the electrical wires, visibly present in the other setups, are the likely culprit for the observed, unexplained thrust:

‘Our results show that the magnetic interaction from not sufficiently shielded cables or thrusters are a major factor that needs to be taken into account for proper µN thrust measurements for these type of devices.’

To the best of our knowledge, then, rockets will still require propellant.

The EmDrive isn’t a reactionless drive at all, and all the laws of physics should still work. In short, we fooled ourselves.”

For years, many tinkerers and inventors have been claiming that some sort of electromagnetic cavity, e.g., the EmDrive, can create a reactionless drive. That is, they claim they can change the momentum of a rocket without any sort of change-in-momentum of anything else, violating Newton’s action-reaction law. Needless to say, much like perpetual motion, physicists are largely skeptical. But until now, we hadn’t yet found why they were achieving the results that they did. However, a new source of error was just uncovered: magnetic fields originating from the cables that power the device. Properly set up the device, away from cables and loops of wires, as Martin Tajmar’s team did, and guess what: your ‘anomalous thrust’ disappears.

The EmDrive, billed as NASA’s impossible space engine, really was too good to be true.

Is Humanity Ignoring Our First Chance For A Mi…

Is Humanity Ignoring Our First Chance For A Mission To An Oort Cloud Object?

“In 2003, scientists discovered an object beyond Neptune that was unlike any other: Sedna. While there were larger dwarf planets beyond Neptune, and comets that would travel farther from the Sun, Sedna was unique for how far it always remained from the Sun. It always remained more than twice as distant from the Sun as Neptune was, and would achieve a maximum distance nearly 1,000 times as far as the Earth-Sun distance. And despite all that, it’s extremely large: perhaps 1,000 kilometers in diameter. It’s the first object we’ve ever found that might have originated from the Oort cloud. And we’ll only get two chances if we want to send a mission there: in 2033 and 2046. Right now, there isn’t even a proposed NASA mission looking at the possibility. If we do nothing, the opportunity will simply pass us by.”

Out beyond the eight planets of our Solar System, a large number of regions, all containing frozen objects, are theorized to exist. Innermost is the Kuiper belt, consisting of a wide variety of bodies, but all of which come quite close to Neptune’s orbit and feel its gravitational influence. Beyond that are the scattered disk objects: objects kicked by one of the gas giants out to greater distances. Beyond that are the detached objects, which have undergone multiple gravitational interactions and no longer come close to Neptune. And finally, there are the sednoids: objects that never come within double the Sun-Neptune distance of the Sun. There are only two known, and the first one, Sedna, is so large that it’s surely a dwarf planet. With an aphelion of approximately 1000 A.U., it may well have an origin in the inner Oort cloud, which is hitherto only theorized.

Fantastically, we have two launch windows for a mission to Sedna, if we were interested in going. Why are we not clamoring for this mission, and for the potential chance to explore the Oort cloud for the first time?!

Hubble’s Greatest Discoveries Weren&rsqu…

Hubble’s Greatest Discoveries Weren’t Planned; They Were Surprises

“And if we head out beyond our own galaxy, that’s where Hubble truly shines, having taught us more about the Universe than we ever imagined was out there. One of the greatest, most ambitious projects ever undertaken came in the mid-1990s, when astronomers in charge of Hubble redefined staring into the unknown. It was possibly the bravest thing ever done with the Hubble Space Telescope: to find a patch of sky with absolutely nothing in it — no bright stars, no nebulae, and no known galaxies — and observe it. Not just for a few minutes, or an hour, or even for a day. But orbit-after-orbit, for a huge amount of time, staring off into the nothingness of empty space, recording image after image of pure darkness.

What came back was amazing. Beyond what we could see, there were thousands upon thousand of galaxies out there in the abyss of space, in a tiny region of sky.”

28 years ago today, the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed. Since that time, it’s changed our view of the Solar System, the stars, nebulae, galaxies, and the entire Universe. But here’s the kicker: almost all of what it discovered wasn’t what it was designed to look for. We were able to learn so much from Hubble because it broke through the next frontier, looking at the Universe in a way we’ve never looked at it before. Astronomers and astrophysicists found clever ways to exploit its capabilities, and the observatory itself was overbuilt to the point where, 28 years later, it’s still one of the most sought-after telescopes as far as observing time goes.

Hubble’s greatest discoveries weren’t planned, but the planning we did enabled them to become real. Here are some great reasons to celebrate its anniversary.

The 19 Small Ways That NASA Will Try To Save T…

The 19 Small Ways That NASA Will Try To Save The Earth

“The key to adapting to a changing world, not just as individuals but as the human race, requires us to use the best tools and information at our disposal. That means paying attention to what the Earth is doing, both naturally and artificially, and using the best data available to drive our policy decisions. These 19 future missions represent the short-and-medium-term roadmap for NASA Earth Science, and every one of these missions is currently slated to go forward, as long as there aren’t unexpected cuts in the future. This Earth Day, don’t just celebrate our planet only to forget about it; keep in mind what we’re doing to learn about our world and why it’s valuable. This planet is the only Earth we’ve got, and it’s up to us to be good stewards of this world. Without quality scientific information on which to base good decisions, from a global perspective, we’d be nothing more than animals.”

When people think of NASA, they think of spaceflight, of technology, and of science. But most of the science they think of is astrophysics or planetary science, not Earth Science. Well, that’s foolish; Earth Science is one of the Science Mission Directorate’s four major realms of study, as we can learn things about our world from the air and from space that we cannot hope to learn from surface investigations alone. Over the coming months and years, NASA has 19 new missions slated to help better investigate and understand the Earth, including our weather, climate, pollution, CO2, temperature, and more. If you care about accurate information, you’ll start to understand why all of these missions are indispensable to a scientifically-minded society.

Come learn about the 19 small ways, from missions small to large, that NASA’s Earth Science directorate will try and help save the Earth.

NASA Kepler’s Scientists Are Doing What …

NASA Kepler’s Scientists Are Doing What Seems Impossible: Turning Pixels Into Planets

“It isn’t the image itself that gives you this information, but rather how the light from image changes over time, both relative to all the other stars and relative to itself. The other stars out there in our galaxy have sunspots, planets, and rich solar systems all their own. As Kepler heads towards its final retirement and prepares to be replaced by TESS, take a moment to reflect on just how it’s revolutionized our view of the Universe. Never before has such a small amount of information taught us so much.”

When you think about exoplanets, or planets around stars other than the Sun, you probably visualize them like we do our own Solar System. Yet direct images of these worlds are exceedingly rare, with less than 1% of the detected exoplanets having any sort of visual confirmation. The way most planets have been found has been from the Kepler spacecraft, which gives you the very, very unimpressive image of the star you see featured at the top. Yet just by watching that star, the light coming from it, and the rest of the field-of-view over time, we can infer the existence of sunspots, flares, and periodic “dips” in brightness that correspond to the presence of a planet. In fact, we can figure out the radius, orbital period, and sometimes even the mass of the planet, too, all from this single point of light.

How do we do it? There’s an incredible science in turning pixels into planets, and that’s what made NASA’s Kepler mission so successful!

Winners And Losers In NASA’s Budget For …

Winners And Losers In NASA’s Budget For 2018 And Beyond

Loser: Long-term stability. As big of a fight as it was to get this bill passed and the crippling proposed cuts by the President overturned, it expires on September 30th of this year. All of these battles will likely need to be fought again in the very short term; WFIRST, James Webb, the Office of Education, and NASA’s Earth Science will quite possibly see additional attempts to curtail, cut, or eliminate them entirely. In past administrations, it was rare to see an already funded-and-agreed-upon mission cancelled. If this year is any indication of what’s to come, there will likely be additional battles required to ensure that many of these missions are seen through to fruition.”

Last week, both houses of Congress put forth the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, where after threatening a veto, it was signed into law by President Trump on Friday. On the surface, it looks like a tremendous victory for science across-the-board, as many programs that were threatened to be cut or cancelled had their funding restored. However, it’s extremely important to remember that despite all the efforts that went into overturning the President’s proposed cuts, this victory only extends for 6 month; on September 30th, this $1.3T budget expires. At that point, all of these hard-won victories for science, education, and the American people may need to be battles that are fought all over again. In addition, there are some dangerous new precedents that are set here, including the warmongering “America First National Space Strategy.”

Be pleased with the victories that have just been won in this latest budget fight, but don’t get complacent. The war for the soul of America is just getting started.

5 Reasons Why Astronomy Is Better From The Gro…

5 Reasons Why Astronomy Is Better From The Ground Than In Space

5.) On Earth, you can observe from anywhere you want. Once your observatory goes to space, gravity and the laws of motion fix, at any given time, exactly where that spacecraft is going to be. Plenty of astronomical curiosities can be seen from everywhere, but there are some spectacular events that require you to be in a very specific location at a particular moment in time. Occultations are an extreme example of this, where a distant, small object in the Solar System passes in front of a background star, but only for a brief instant in a particular location. Neptune’s moon Triton and New Horizons’ first post-Pluto destination, MU69, both occulted background stars, with Triton doing so regularly. Space telescopes have never been lucky enough to catch these, but thanks to mobile observatories like NASA’s SOFIA, we’ve learned how Triton’s atmosphere changes with its seasons, and we’ve even discovered a small moon around MU69! Because we don’t put all our eggs in the telescopes-in-space basket, we can do the unique science that the light arriving at our world enables.”

When it comes to astronomy, space telescopes get all the love. By flying above the atmosphere, there’s no need to wait until the atmospheric and day/night conditions are right to observe; you can look at whatever you want pretty much whenever you want, and for as long as you want. You don’t have to contend with clouds or atmospheric turbulence, and the entire electromagnetic spectrum is available to look at. We normally think of these advantages, but we hardly ever think about how much worse many things are in astronomy from space. But there are legitimately huge advantages to being on the ground, and cost doesn’t even need to be a factor to come up with five tremendous ones!

I resisted the urge to make a “groundbreaking” joke in the article, but the science is unarguable. Come learn the five reasons why astronomy is better from the ground than in space!

Sorry, Super-Earth Fans, There Are Only Three …

Sorry, Super-Earth Fans, There Are Only Three Classes Of Planet

“What’s really interesting is how the mass/radius relationship changes for these three different classes of world. Up to about double the Earth’s mass, or a size just ~25% larger than Earth’s radius, you have an opportunity to be Earth-like, with thriving life on the surface. Beyond that, you’ll have an enormous hydrogen/helium envelope, and be much more akin to Neptune, Uranus or Saturn. In other words, what we’ve been classifying as “super-Earths” aren’t anything like Earth at all, but are instead gas giant worlds, expected to be wholly inhospitable to life on their surfaces.”

Thanks to NASA’s Kepler mission, we’ve discovered literally thousands of worlds that lie beyond our own Solar System. Surprisingly, the majority of them aren’t like anything we have in our own backyard, but are somewhere in between Earth and Neptune in terms of size and mass. These worlds, usually broken into categories like “super-Earths” and/or “mini-Neptunes,” have often been viewed as new categories of planets, along with the “super-Jupiters” that we don’t see here, either. Yet these classifications are purely arbitrary, based on what we’ve seen and how we classified planets in our own neighborhood. What would we get if we classified them based on the properties that they actually possess, like mass and radius? We’d find, quite surprisingly, that there are only three classes of planet: Terran, Neptunian, and Jovian-like worlds. 

Moreover, practically everything we’ve been calling a super-Earth isn’t Earth-like at all, but a Neptunian world. Come get the full story on the planets that exist in our Universe!

Earliest Evidence For Stars Smashes Hubble&r…

Earliest Evidence For Stars Smashes Hubble’s Record And Points To Dark Matter

“And most importantly, this is a glimpse into what it’s like to push back the frontiers of science. The first evidence for anything new is almost always indirect, weak, and difficult to interpret. But these unexplained signals have the power to explain what we don’t yet fully understand: how the Universe came to be the way it is today. For the first time, the Universe has given us an observational clue of where and when and what to look for. It’s up to us to take the next step.”

Earlier today, a new study was released in Nature, showcasing the earliest evidence of stars in cosmic history. The previous record was held by Hubble, which had spotted a galaxy from when the Universe was just 400 million years old: 3% of its current age. Now, indirect measurements of starlight, through the technique of radio astronomy looking for a particular hydrogen transition, has shown us evidence for a tremendous population of stars from when the Universe was between 180 and 260 million years old. This could be, truly, the first stars and galaxies of all, and it’s occurring in exactly the range that the James Webb Space Telescope will be sensitive to. Moreover, the gas that we’re observing shows signs of being far cooler than we’ve anticipated, meaning that something strange is going on, and one leading candidate is that dark matter is interacting with and cooling the gas!

This is the earliest evidence for stars in the entire Universe, and it’s just smashed Hubble’s previous record. Come get the full story right now!

Cancelling WFIRST Will Permanently Ruin NASA …

Cancelling WFIRST Will Permanently Ruin NASA

“We absolutely cannot let this project go down without a fight. If WFIRST gets cancelled, it’s a sign that even the most important NASA project, as determined by internal, external, and independent reviewers, is subject to political whims. These projects take more than a single presidency to design, approve, build, and launch. Federal funding for these vital missions that enhance all of society must not be allowed to disappear because one human — even if it’s the president — wills it. The joys, wonder, knowledge, and benefits that come from exploring and understanding the Universe are greater than any individual.”

When it comes to NASA, there are three main functions that make up the overwhelming majority of its budget: science, exploration, and space operations. Within science, the largest and most important missions, spread across planetary science, astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics, are known as flagship missions. According to Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate of NASA, “What we learn from these flagship missions is why we study the Universe. This is civilization-scale science… If we don’t do this, we aren’t NASA.” When someone (ahem… Trump) comes in, after decades of planning, and proposes to scrap an already-designed flagship mission, it threatens to end science-as-we-know-it at NASA.

The United States must not cede leadership in the space and science arena to Japan, Russia, Europe, China, India and Canada the same way it did with the superconducting supercollider 25 years ago. This time, humanity’s capability of understanding the entire Universe is what’s at stake.