Categories
GeekWire

Legislation sets up space property rights

Image: Asteroid mining
An artist’s conception shows an asteroid being mined by robots. (Credit: Planetary Resources)

After months of consideration, Congress is finishing up work on legislation that establishes legal rights for U.S. citizens to own resources in outer space – a key requirement for asteroid mining ventures like Planetary Resources.

“Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multiplanetary species,” Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of the Redmond-based company, said today in a statement. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

The legislation also extends the regulatory “learning period” for commercial spaceflight ventures through 2023, confirms that the International Space Station should stay in operation through 2024, and extends indemnification of commercial launches through 2025.

The Senate and House passed different versions of the legislation, known as H.R. 2262 and S. 1297, earlier this year – but it took until today for the Senate to pass an amendment that incorporates provisions agreed upon by both houses of Congress. The measure was sent back to the House for final passage, and if the legislation is approved as expected, it will be sent onward to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Solar system’s most distant world detected

Image: Kuiper Belt object
An artist’s conception shows an object in the distant Kuiper Belt. The newly reported object is beyond the Kuiper Belt, in a region known as the inner Oort Cloud. (Credit: G. Bacon / STScI / NASA)

Astronomers say they’ve identified the most distant celestial object in our solar system – a speck of light more than three times farther out than Pluto, called V774104.

The object is smaller than Pluto or Eris, which rank as the largest known worlds beyond Neptune with diameters of a little less than 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers). V774104’s brightness suggests that it’s just 300 to 600 miles (500 to 1,000 kilometers) wide. But based on a limited number of observations by the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers estimate its distance at more than 9.5 billion miles, or 103 times the distance between the sun and Earth.

The sun-Earth distance, known as an astronomical unit or AU, provides the best measuring stick for distant objects in the solar system. Pluto is currently 33 AU from the sun, and Eris’ distance is 96 AU. V774104 is farther out, in a twilight zone that’s between the belt of icy material called the Kuiper Belt and a halo of comets called the Oort Cloud.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Starfish tale stars in science awards

A mini-documentary about the die-off facing the West Coast’s sea stars has won KCTS producer/photographer Katie Campbell one of the country’s most prestigious science journalism awards.

The TV tale – titled “Is Alaska Safe for Sea Stars?” – focuses on scientists who are studying why starfish off the coast of Alaska were able to dodge the outbreak until now. It aired last year in October as part of KCTS’ “IN Close” documentary series, and now it’s won the top prize in the 2015 Kavli Science Journalism Awards’ spot news/feature reporting category for television.

“This piece was about far more than starfish,” David Baron, a former science editor for PRI’s “The World” who served as one of the competition’s judges, said intoday’s announcement of the winners. “By showing how biologists painstakingly collect data to understand the natural world, the story beautifully demostrates what it means to be a scientist.”

Campbell said she was “ecstatic” to be included among the winners, and said the award also recognizes “the important work being done by researchers on the front lines of the massive sea star wasting epidemic.”

The Science Journalism Awards are funded by the Kavli Foundation, administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and judged by independent panels of science journalists. (In 2002, one of the awards went to yours truly.) As a Gold Award winner, Campbell will receive $5,000 at the AAAS’ annual meeting in Washington, D.C., next February. For the first time, the awards program is also giving out Silver Awards worth $3,500, and honoring international as well as U.S.-based journalists.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Heat scan spots anomaly in Great Pyramid

Image: Pyramid scan
A computer animation shows how infrared scanning can produce heat maps of the exteriors of Egypt’s pyramids (Credit: ScanPyramids.org)

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities says thermal scanning has turned up anomalies inside the pyramids of Giza, including a “particularly impressive one” on the eastern side of the biggest monument. The report comes just days after the ministry said a similar scan found temperature anomalies in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, hundreds of miles to the south.

Empty space doesn’t hold heat as well as rock or soil, so heat anomalies provide clues to structural features beneath or beyond the surface being scanned. They could point to hidden chambers or passages at the ancient sites. However, the anomalies also could be due to less spectacular differences in structure or composition – for example, fractures in the underlying rock.

When infrared cameras scanned the interior of Tut’s burial chamber, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, the ministry said anomalies were found along the northern and western walls. That meshes with other evidence suggesting that yet another burial chamber – perhaps that of Tut’s mother, Nefertiti – lies beyond the walls.

Meanwhile, just outside Cairo, the international Scan Pyramids team took infrared readings of the Giza pyramids’ exteriors at sunrise, when the morning sun was starting to heat up the monuments; and at sunset, when the pyramids were cooling down. The ministry said scientists found intriguing anomalies in the cycle of heating and cooling, and singled out a temperature variation at the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops).

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Pluto probe sees evidence of ice volcanoes

Image: Piccard Mons
A color-coded topographical map, based on New Horizons data, shows Piccard Mons on the surface of Pluto. The mountain’s structure suggests that it’s an ice volcano. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission say that at least a couple of the miles-high mountains on Pluto look as if they’re ice-belching volcanoes, providing further evidence that the dwarf planet is geologically active.

Although the case for cryovolcanoes isn’t yet rock-solid, it’s the “least weird explanation” for the observations of 2-mile-high Wright Mons and 3-5-mile-high Piccard Mons, said Oliver White of NASA’s Ames Research Center, a member of the mission’s geology team.

If the mountains’ status is confirmed, “that would be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of New Horizons,” White told reporters. “Whatever they are, they’re definitely weird.”

Image: Wright Mons
Like Piccard Mons, Wright Mons has a summit depression that suggests it’s an ice volcano on Pluto. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Pluto’s potential status as a volcanic world was just one of the revelations that came to light on Monday during a review of New Horizons’ latest discoveries at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Md.

“The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down,” Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release about the findings.

Get the full story from GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Drone signup will be simple, and wide-ranging

Image: Drone
The Blade 200 QX drone weighs in at about 200 grams, which would be just light enough to be flown without registration, based on reported recommendations. (Credit: Andreas Schneiter via YouTube)

Recreational drones as small as 9 ounces will have to be registered, but users should be able to go through the process online, with no fees, and the same registration number can be used for multiple drones: Those are among the reported recommendations emerging from last week’s meeting of a task force charged with proposing a registration system by Nov. 20.

The task force, which includes representatives from Amazon, Walmart, Alphabet(Google’s parent company) and other industry types as well as hobbyists, met in Washington under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration. It hasn’t yet issued any formal findings, but reports from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal provide a consistent account of what was decided.

Get the full story from GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Missile launch sparks UFO freakout in L.A.

Image: Light in sky
A missile launch lit up the skies at around 6 p.m. PT Saturday. (Credit: Julien Solomita via YouTube)

An unannounced Trident missile launch lit up the skies over Los Angeles on Saturday night, setting off a hail of UFO reports, tense tweets and YouTube videos.

After the flare-up, the U.S. Navy confirmed that the USS Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine that’s homeported at the Bangor submarine base on the Kitsap Peninsula, conducted a “scheduled, on-going system evaluation test” in the Navy’s Pacific Test Range off the coast of Southern California. The missile was not armed, the Navy said in its statement.

It’s typical for the Navy to refrain from announcing Trident test launches in advance, but it’s definitely not typical for the launch to be witnessed by millions of people in one of the nation’s most populous regions.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Scan hints at hidden chamber in Tut’s tomb

Infrared imaging conducted inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt has raised hopes that it has a hidden chamber, which would be in line with archaeologist Nicholas Reeves’ recently published suggestions that another royal burial chamber could be discovered there. And there’s more to come.

Image: Eldamaty with camera
Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty holds an infrared camera that can scan the walls of King Tutakhamun’s tomb for temperature differences. (Credit: MInistry of Antiquities via Facebook)

Could the chamber have been built for Queen Nefertiti, thought to be Tut’s mother? Or for Kiya, a lesser wife of Tut’s father, Akhenaten? Could there be intact remains and 3,300-year-old treasures inside, as there were when Tutakhamun was discovered almost exactly 93 years ago in 1922?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: So far, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has said only that a preliminary analysis of the infrared scans “indicates the presence of an area different in its temperature than the other parts of the northern wall.”

Further scans will be needed to confirm the results and pinpoint the area of temperature difference, the ministry said. But if the effect is confirmed, it could be caused by an open space behind the wall, which wouldn’t hold heat as well as the solid rock or soil surrounding other parts of the tomb.

That would be consistent with Reeves’ claim that there’s a continuation of Tut’s tomb lying beyond the boy-king’s burial chamber as it’s seen today, a space “containing the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s original owner – Nefertiti.” He said another hidden storeroom may lie beyond the western wail.

Reeves, who’s director of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project and senior archaeologist with the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, made his claims on the basis ofFactum Arte’s recent high-resolution images of the chamber’s walls. He said the images appeared to show the “ghosts” of hitherto-unrecognized doorways that had been covered over. When he published his paper on the subject this summer, it sounded like the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. But the infrared scanning project’s initial results add weight to Reeves’ hypothesis.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How many martinis? Bond Index tracks 007

Image: SPECTRE stars
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux star in “SPECTRE,” the latest 007 movie. (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

Here’s a different kind of Bond index: In honor of the latest 007 movie, “SPECTRE,” Bloomberg Business tracked eight metrics across all 3,053 minutes and 33 seconds of the 24 James Bond films released over the past 53 years.

Among the highlights:

  • Bond is wearing a suit or a tuxedo for nearly 18 hours out of the total 51 hours.
  • He introduces himself as “Bond. James Bond” 26 times over the course of the 24 films.
  • He spends more than 5 percent of his on-screen time flirting, seducing or being “otherwise intimate.”
  • Pierce Brosnan’s Bond set the record for most gadgets used in a film. (16, in “Die Another Day”).
  • Bond or another character orders a total of 16 martinis for him in 24 films. That counts the controversial dirty vodka martini that Bond quaffs in “SPECTRE.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Boeing and Lockheed protest bomber snub

Image: Northrop Grumman ad
Northrop Grumman has been given an Air Force contract to build the Long Range Strike Bomber – a concept that was touted in a Super Bowl ad. (Northrop Grumman photo)

Boeing and Lockheed Martin say they’ve filed a formal protest of last month’s Pentagon decision to award a bomber contract worth as much as $80 billion to a competitor, Northrop Grumman.

The stealthy Long Range Strike Bomber is scheduled for deployment in the 2020s as a replacement for the Air Force’s decades-old B-1 and B-52 bombers. The Boeing-Lockheed team and Northrop Grumman both put in proposals, and both teams saw the contract as crucial for their long-term military business.

The Air Force made its selection using a mostly classified process, and announced the award to Northrop Grumman on Oct. 27. In today’s statement, Boeing and Lockheed Martin said the process was “fundamentally flawed.”

“The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors’ ability to perform, as required by the solicitation,” the companies said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.