FAA goes long with Super Bowl no-drone zone

Image: No drone zone

The FAA is spreading the word about the Super Bowl “no-drone zone.” (Credit: FAA)

No means no when it comes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s no-drone zone for Super Bowl Sunday.

Not even CBS, which is broadcasting the big football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos starting at 3:30 p.m. PT Sunday, will be allowed to send unmanned aerial vehicles into the red zone, the FAA says.

The red zone is unusually large this weekend: It extends across a 74-mile-wide circle centered on Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. The FAA’s temporary flight restrictions block out the airspace to a height of 18,000 feet from 2 to 11:59 p.m. PT.

The FAA typically restricts the airspace around sporting events with a seating capacity of 30,000 spectators or more, but for the Super Bowl, the no-drone zone is bigger than usual: 37 statute miles (32 nautical miles) in radius, as opposed to the standard 3.5 statute miles. That’s because the Super Bowl is considered a “special security event.”

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Apollo 14 moonwalker Edgar Mitchell dies at 85

Image: Edgar Mitchell

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell sits for his official portrait in 1970. Mitchell’s crewmates on the mission in 1971 were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. (Credit: NASA)

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died at the age of 85 after a months-long illness, according to reports that emerged on the 45th anniversary of his first moonwalk.

Members of Mitchell’s family spread the word on Feb. 5 in obituaries published by news outlets in Palm Beach, Fla., where the former astronaut lived. The Palm Beach Post quoted his daughter, Kimberly Mitchell, as saying he died at a local hospice at about 10 p.m. ET the previous night.

“As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon, and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Edgar Mitchell took part in the first lunar mission to follow 1970’s nearly disastrous flight of Apollo 13, and became the sixth human to set foot on the moon.

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Final Boeing-built GPS satellite goes into orbit

Image: Atlas 5 launch

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket rises from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the GPS IIF-12 satellite into space. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

The last GPS Block IIF satellite built by the Boeing Co. was sent into orbit for the U.S. Air Force today, filling out a set of a dozen.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket carried the 3,500-pound GPS IIF-12 satellite into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at the start of today’s launch window, at 8:38 a.m. ET (5:38 a.m. PT). Hours later, the rocket’s Centaur upper stage put the satellite into a 12,700-mile-high orbit.

Today’s launch was the first one of the year for United Launch Alliance, which is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

The 12 Block IIF satellites are part of the Air Force’s Global Positioning System constellation, which provides navigation data for users worldwide. Those users range from Air Force controllers calling in air strikes to drivers, sailors and hikers trying to figure out how to get where they want to go.

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Pluto probe spots ice islands in a nitrogen sea

Image: Pluto's icy hills

This image focuses in on a part of Pluto’s heart-shaped region where hills of water ice appear to be floating on top of a nitrogen glacier. Challenger Colles, toward the top of the inset photo, is a wide cluster of water-ice hills. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

There’s plenty of evidence that Pluto is a frozen water world, with mountains of ice that rise more than 10,000 feet in height, but here’s something even weirder: Huge chunks of frozen H2O appear to be floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen, like icebergs in Earth’s polar regions.

Those are among the findings reported on Feb. 4 in this week’s update from NASA’s New Horizons mission. The piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft collected gigabytes’ worth of observations last year during its July 14 flyby, and it’s been sending back data ever since then.

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After gravity-wave rumors, it’s go time for LIGO

Image: LIGO optics

Optics technician Gary Traylor uses a light to inspect one of the laser-reflecting mirrors at the LIGO facility in Livingston, La. (Credit: Matt Heintze / Caltech / MIT / LIGO Lab)

The scientists behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory are getting ready to reveal their latest findings, amid a flurry of speculation over whether or not they’ve made the first-ever detection of waves rippling through spacetime.

Fred Raab, the head of the LIGO laboratory in Hanford, Wash., isn’t telling.

“As we have done for the past 15 years, we take data, analyze the data, write up the results for publication in scientific journals, and once the results are accepted for publication, we announce results broadly on the day of publication or shortly thereafter,” he told GeekWire in an email.

In a follow-up phone call, Raab noted that if the historical trend holds true, the results should be ready to submit for publication as early as this month.

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NASA finishes huge mirror for Webb Telescope

Image: Webb Telescope mirror

The James Webb Space Telescope’s 18 mirrors are fully installed. (Credit: Chris Gunn / NASA)

NASA has put the 18th and final piece of the puzzle into place for the $8.8 billionJames Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror – marking a major milestone on the way to the observatory’s launch in 2018.

The 21.3-foot-wide mirror is so big it couldn’t be fabricated in one piece. Instead, it’s made up of 18 hexagonal segments, each spanning a little more than 4 feet and weighing about 88 pounds. The last segment was carefully laid into place using a clawlike robotic arm at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland on Feb. 3.

“With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the universe,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in a news release.

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Fusion ‘pretzel’ fires up first hydrogen plasma

Image: Wendelstein 7-X

The first hydrogen plasma lights up the interior of the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device. (Credit: IPP)

Hydrogen plasma was produced for the first time on Feb. 3 in Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X fusion device, which has been called the “reactor designed in hell” as well as the“pretzel that could save Planet Earth.”

The Wendelstein 7-X was built at the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Greifswald at a cost of €1 billion ($1.1 billion). The device, known as a stellarator, is built to contain superheated plasma inside a magnetic chamber with a tangled, pretzel-like configuration.

Physicists at the institute are hoping that the crazy-looking design will keep the plasma stable for extended periods within the magnetic field. That’s been an issue for plasma chambers with a more typical doughnut-like design, which are called tokamaks.

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