Quantum fluctuations in science, space and society
Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.
Some of the best-known names on Pluto — ranging from the Sputnik plains to the Hillary and Norgay mountains and the dark Cthulhu Regio — may never appear on the International Astronomical Union’s maps, due to a tiff over terminology.
Those are just a few of the informal names that have raised questions from members of the IAU panel charged with approving the nomenclature for the dwarf planet’s geographical features. The names were selected by the team behind NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto after a months-long online naming campaign at OurPluto.org.
“Frankly, we would have preferred that the New Horizons team had approached us before putting all these informal names everywhere,” said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is a member of the IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.
The Dawn mission’s principal investigator says those shiny sides may be connected to Ceres’ other big mystery: the bright spots that shine out from the mini-world’s dark surface.
“The bright material on the mountain and in the bright spots are probably the same material,” UCLA’s Christopher Russell told GeekWire in an email. “How the material got on the sides of the mountain and also in the bottom of the craters is unknown.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is heading to Cape Canaveral next month to make a “significant announcement regarding the emerging commercial launch industry” — most likely about plans for his Blue Origin space venture to build and launch rockets on Florida’s Space Coast.
The media invitation went out this week for the Sept. 15 event at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. No further details were provided about the subject of the announcement, but Blue Origin has been working for years to secure a Florida facility.
Bezos’ privately financed venture aims to send tourists and researchers to the edge of space in a vertical-launch-and-landing suborbital vehicle called New Shepard. An uncrewed prototype blasted off for its first developmental test flight in April at Blue Origin’s West Texas rocket range. The company is also working on an orbital launch system, with the aim of winning NASA contracts to ferry crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Developing that system is expected to be the focus in Florida.
SPOKANE, Wash. — Is there a better way to power a spaceship? The basic tools of the rocket trade have been refined over the course of nearly nine decades, but there’s only so far the physics will take us. If we ever want to send anything to another star system, as described in Kim Stanley Robinson’s newly published book“Aurora,” we’ll have to come up with new technologies.
Some of those technologies were laid out at Sasquan, the world science-fiction convention playing out this week in Spokane, during a session on the art and science of spaceships. And it turns out many of those technologies have a Seattle spin. Get a quick rundown on six research areas, with links to the local connections.
SPOKANE, Wash. — “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin acknowledges that HBO could air the final episode of the show based on his books even before the last book in the series comes out — and he’s OK with that.
The Perseids are traditionally among the most popular meteor showers of the year, and Seattle is traditionally one of the worst places to watch for meteors. Fortunately, the weather and the stars could align for a potentially good show this week — and we have five options that will help you make the most of this summertime skywatching tradition.
Astronauts on the International Space Station ate space-grown lettuce for the first time today — an Oregon-bred variety of “Outredgeous” red romaine that’s perfectly suited for outer space as well as the Pacific Northwest.
“Nobody is more surprised that Outredgeous went into space than I am,” said Frank Morton, the founder of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon.
Morton developed the romaine variety back in the 1990s, when he was supplying greens for local restaurants. The leaves are so red that the first buyers found it hard to believe it was actually lettuce. But the taste quickly won over those who tried it, including the spacefliers who snipped off the leaves today and sampled them with a dab of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“That’s awesome,” NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren said.
“Tastes good … kinda like arugula,” said NASA crewmate Scott Kelly, who is in the midst of a yearlong stint on the space station.
The CubeSat revolution has come to this: Now you can make an online reservation for a nanosatellite launch almost as easily as booking a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles.
L.A.-based Rocket Lab unveiled its launch booking system today at the annualSmallSat conference in Logan, Utah. “It’s really about trying to break down the barriers and make space more accessible,” Peter Beck, the company’s CEO, explained during a GeekWire interview.
It’s one more small step toward turning the satellite business into a turnkey operation for researchers, entrepreneurs, students and Kickstarter-savvy enthusiasts.
The perspective from DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (a.k.a. EPIC), captured on July 16, provides a topsy-turvy view: Here we’re seeing the moon’s far side, which earthbound skywatchers can never observe. And although it looks like a full moon, on Earth the moon was in its totally dark, “new” phase.
Launched in February, DSCOVR is a joint mission of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the twin objectives of making climate observations and keeping watch for incoming solar storms.
The Earth-watching part of the mission follows through on an idea put forward by Vice President Al Gore back in the 1990s – and the former veep was obviously tickled to see the latest pictures released from NASA’s lockbox:
Scientists say NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered Earth’s “older, bigger first cousin” – a planet that’s about 60 percent bigger than our own, circling a sunlike star in an orbit that could sustain liquid water and perhaps life.
“Today, Earth is a little bit less lonely, because there’s a new kid on the block,” Kepler data analysis lead Jon Jenkins, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said during a NASA teleconference about the find.