One year before eclipse, spots are filling up fast

Image: 2012 eclipse

The sun’s corona gleams during a total solar eclipse seen from the northern tip of Australia in November 2012. (Credit: Romeo Durscher via NASA)

It’s exactly one year before the “Great American Eclipse” sweeps across the continent, but depending on where you want to stay, it’s already too late to make a reservation.

On one level, the solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, should rank among the most accessible such phenomena for Americans – and it’s not to be missed. Partial phases of the eclipse should be visible, weather permitting, from most of North America. For example, up to 92 percent of the sun’s disk will be covered as seen from Seattle.

On another level, the eclipse is a hot ticket: Its total phase will be visible only along aroughly 70-mile-wide track that extends from Oregon to South Carolina. Totality means the moon blots out the sun’s entire disk, turning daylight to nighttime for up to two and a half minutes.

Statistically speaking, most of the best places to go for clear skies in August are in a swath of the West ranging from central Oregon to Nebraska. And by some measures, the absolute best is Madras, Ore.

But just try getting a room in Oregon.

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Space elevator fans keep looking up

Image: Space elevator

An artist’s conception shows a space elevator rising up from Earth. (Credit: Pat Rawlings / NASA file)

Once upon a time, entrepreneurs were counting down to a date in 2018 when the first space elevator would open for business. NASA was setting aside millions of dollars to promote the technologies required for building that elevator. And space elevator fans were looking forward to a breakthrough that would drive the cost of space travel down to mere hundreds of dollars.

Today, the countdown is on indefinite hold. The NASA money is gone. And the dream of building the space elevator has been eclipsed by billionaire Elon Musk’s dream of putting colonists on Mars by the mid-2020s.

Nevertheless, the fans are still keeping the faith, and they’re backing up that faith with research studies. About 35 of them gathered today at Seattle’s Museum of Flight to kick off the 2016 Space Elevator Conference, presented by the International Space Elevator Consortium.

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Space station crew installs new front door

Spacewalker at work

NASA’s Jeff Williams works on the space station’s International Docking Adapter. (Credit: NASA TV)

The International Space Station now has a door that will let crews float in from the commercial space taxis that SpaceX and Boeing are building, thanks to a nearly six-hour spacewalk.

NASA spacewalkers Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed the Boeing-built door, known as an International Docking Adapter or IDA, with an assist from the station’s robotic arm. This was the fourth spacewalk for Williams, and the first for Rubins.

The 5-foot-wide IDA was hooked up to one of the ports on the station’s Harmony module – a port that was originally designed for use by the now-retired space shuttle fleet. Analogous to an electrical-plug adapter, the IDA fits over the port to provide a standard interface for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, Boeing’s CST-100 Starlifter, and potentially other spacecraft including Russia’s Soyuz capsule.

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Uber powers ahead on autonomous vehicles

Image: Volvo for Uber

Uber plans to use Volvo XC90 cars that have been modified for autonomous driving. (Credit: Uber)

Uber says it’s acquiring Otto, a venture working on self-driving trucks, and starting up an autonomous-vehicle experiment with Volvo in Pittsburgh.

The moves by the ride-share trailblazer, announced on Thursday, came just days after Ford laid out its plan to put autonomous ride-share vehicles on the road by 2021. Such moves signal that ride-sharing and ride-hailing will loom as a major frontier for automotive autonomy.

In a blog post, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said that Otto’s co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, would lead the company’s self-driving efforts in the San Francisco Bay area as well as Pittsburgh. “If that sounds like a big deal — well, it is,” Kalanick said.

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Watch asteroid hunters play the Xtronaut game

Image: Xtronaut game

The Xtronaut board game gives players a taste of the science, economics and politics behind planning an interplanetary robotic mission. (Credit: Xtronaut via Amazon)

Watching a couple of guys play a board game on streaming video may not sound exciting – unless those two guys also play the real-life asteroid-hunting game.

That’s precisely the situation facing Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, Wash.; and Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona professor who’s the principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.

They’ll be battling over the playing board – and discussing developments in asteroid science and exploration – during a Google Hangout that starts at 11 a.m. PT Friday.

The game in question is Xtronaut, a simplified simulation of the mission-planning process for interplanetary robotic exploration. Lauretta’s the co-creator of the board game, which lifted off last year thanks to Kickstarter.

“We have been playing this game in the office, and can assure you it is JUST like planning a real mission,” Lewicki says on the YouTube page touting the Hangout.

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T. rex delivered to Seattle, with more to come

Image: T. rex skull in plaster

Workers unload a plaster-wrapped T. rex skull at the Burke Museum. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Seattle’s Burke Museum took delivery of what’s recognized as one of the finest Tyrannosaur rex skulls in the world today, but there are still more bones out in Montana to add to the treasure.

“We’ll go back again,” Greg Wilson, a University of Washington biologist who led the excavation team at Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, told GeekWire at the arrival ceremony. “There’s more in the hill.”

It’ll take more than a year to do the preparatory work on the skull and more than 50 other T. rex bone specimens that have been recovered over the past couple of months, including vertebrae, ribs, hips and lower jaw bones.

The haul so far appears to account for about 20 percent of the complete skeleton. That puts the Burke Museum’s set of fossils among the world’s top 25 T. rex finds, Wilson said. He told reporters that the museum’s T. rex skull will be the only one to go on public display in Washington state.

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Olympic Peninsula gets its orbital close-up

Image: Olympic Peninsula seen from space

Images captured from the International Space Station on May 6 were combined to create this panorama of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, with Seattle and Tacoma in the background. Click on the picture for a larger version. (Credit: NASA)

You can see the snow dusting the tops of the Olympic Mountains in a newly released portrait captured from the International Space Station.

But if you think that’s something, try looking for the ships plying Puget Sound and the bridges crossing Lake Washington in the high-resolution view from NASA.

The panorama was assembled from seven photos taken from orbit on May 6, and tweeted out by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams today.

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