Categories
GeekWire

Supernovae spread radioactive fallout on Earth

Image: Supernova
An artist’s impression shows a supernova explosion in its prime. (Credit: Greg Stewart / SLAC)

Researchers say they’ve found evidence of supernova explosions that spewed radioactive fallout over Earth during the age when humanity’s ancestors were evolving into upright-walking, big-brained creatures.

One of two studies published in the journal Nature identifies deposits of radioactive iron-60 in deep-sea cores extracted from the bottom of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The deposits were traced back to one time frame ranging from 1.5 million to 3.2 million years ago, and another period 6.5 million to 8.7 million years ago.

The researchers behind that study, led by Anton Wallner of Australian National University, say the iron-60 was blasted toward us by “multiple supernova and massive-star events” that occurred within 325 light-years of Earth.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Scott Kelly says he suffered stress in space

Image: Scott Kelly
Scott Kelly peers out one of the International Space Station’s windows. (Credit: NASA)

During his year in space, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said he could do another year if he had to. But now that Kelly has returned to Earth and retired from NASA, he says the experience took an emotional and physical toll.

The down side of long-term stints on the International Space Station came up today when Alfred A. Knopf announced it would be publishing Kelly’s memoir, titled “Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars.”

The announcement included a telling quote from the 52-year-old spaceflier:

“During my time in orbit, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied, and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained my heart. Every day, I was exposed to 10 times the radiation of a person on Earth, which will increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life. Not to mention the psychological stress, which is harder to quantify and perhaps as damaging.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Scott Kelly brings space into Microsoft spotlight

Image: Scott Kelly and Satya Nadella
Astronaut Scott Kelly recounts his space experience at the Microsoft Envision conference while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella looks on. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

Just days after retiring from NASA, astronaut Scott Kelly gave HoloLens mixed-reality technology a boost today at the Microsoft Envision conference in New Orleans – and promised to get the International Space Station upgraded to Windows 10.

It’s been a busy time for Kelly: Last month, he finished up a nearly yearlong stint on the station, which was aimed at learning what will be required for long-duration missions to Mars and other deep-space destinations. Soon afterward, he announced he was retiring from NASA on April 1.

Today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella brought Kelly on stage to help inspire hundreds of developers attending this week’s Envision conference. “It’s the stories like Captain Kelly and NASA that inspire us in everything we do at Microsoft,” Nadella said. “Our mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Kelly recalled that when he went over from the U.S. Navy to join NASA’s astronaut corps in 1996, the space shuttle program relied on the 486 computer processing chip and on-paper checklists. “The Internet was something new that I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with,” he said.

“Fast forward 20 years … and the space station is basically operated with a bunch of laptop computers using different types of software. Some of them use Microsoft Windows 7, actually. We’re a little behind there,” Kelly said.

“We’ve got to get the Windows 10 upgrade going into space,” Nadella joked.

“I’m going to call NASA right when we get out of here,” Kelly replied.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Get a drone’s-eye view of Blue Origin spaceflight

Saturday’s test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship marked lots of milestones, including the first time a drone captured video of its launch from above.

Those kinds of views have long been provided by SpaceX, one of Blue Origin’s rivals in the reusable rocket business, and they’re thrilling. The video that Blue Origin founder (and Amazon billionaire) Jeff Bezos shared today is in the same category – right down to the rockin’ soundtrack.

“We pushed the envelope on this flight, restarting the engine for the propulsive landing only 3,600 feet above the ground, requiring the BE-3 engine to start fast and ramp to high thrust fast,” Bezos said in a blog post accompanying the video.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Five science tales that aren’t April Fool’s jokes

Image: Elasmotherium
A painting by Heinrich Harder (circa 1920) provides a view of Elasmotherium, a horned animal that went extinct tens of thousands of years ago. (Credit: Heinrich Harder via Wikipedia)

Unicorns are real! Scientists propose cloaking device to protect Earth from aliens! Glow-in-the-dark skin grown in lab! Those may sound like April Fool’s headlines, but they’re actually amped-up twists on real-life science. Check out five recent scientific revelations that take a walk on the weird side.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

SETI Institute searches for red-dwarf aliens

Image: Red dwarf planetary system
An artist’s conception shows a planetary system around a red dwarf star. (Credit: ESO)

The SETI Institute is shifting the focus of its search for extraterrestrial intelligence to places that could harbor life that’s not as we know it: 20,000 red-dwarf star systems.

“Red dwarfs – the dim bulbs of the cosmos – have received scant attention by SETI scientists in the past,” SETI Institute engineer Jon Richard said today in a news release announcing the initiative. “That’s because researchers made the seemingly reasonable assumption that other intelligent species would be on planets orbiting stars similar to the sun.”

Red dwarfs are nothing like the sun: The brightest of the breed are a tenth as luminous as the sun, and some are just 0.01 percent as bright. But astronomers say they account for three-quarters of all stars.

The star that’s closest to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf. A variety of observing efforts, including the Pale Red Dot initiative, are looking for planets around Proxima Centauri.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Microsoft, NASA create HoloLens Mars tour

Image: Mars tour
Erisa Hines, a driver for the Mars Curiosity rover, talks to participants during the “Destination: Mars” mixed-reality tour. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Microsoft)

Microsoft and NASA are bringing HoloLens to the masses – and bringing the masses to Mars – with a mixed-reality experience that will make its debut this summer.

“Destination: Mars,” an exhibit opening at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida this summer, takes regular folks on a virtual guided tour to sites visited by the Curiosity rover on the Red Planet.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin serves as one of the “holographic tour guides,” along with Curiosity rover driver Erisa Hines of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The experience lets the public explore Mars in an entirely new way,” JPL visualization producer Doug Ellison said March 30 in a news release. “To walk through the exact landscape that Curiosity is roving across puts its achievements and discoveries into beautiful context.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Elon Musk’s Mars plan sparks a nerd fight

Image: Musk in Dragon
SpaceX’s Elon Musk sits in a Crew Dragon capsule during its unveiling in 2014. (Credit: SpaceX)

Is SpaceX founder Elon Musk crazy to press ahead with plans to send people to Mars? Or crazy like a fox? A rehash of discouraging words from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has sparked a renewed debate over Musk’s grand plan.

Tyson’s pronouncements actually date back to last November, when he told The Verge in an interview that people were deluding themselves if they thought private enterprise alone could send people to Mars.

“The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier,” Tyson said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

He explained that interplanetary spaceflight is just too expensive and risky, with too little of an initial return on investment, to make sense as a private venture. “A government has a much longer horizon over which it can make investments,” Tyson said. (He told Larry King pretty much the same thing months earlier.)

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Cygnus cargo ship hooks up to space station

Image: Cygnus capture
The International Space Station’s robotic arm reaches out to grapple Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo ship in a video view with an overlay of computer data. (Credit: NASA TV)

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus commercial cargo ship had a smooth link-up with the International Space Station on March 26, delivering about 7,500 pounds of supplies, equipment, experiments and high-tech gizmos. But a rocket glitch that cropped up while putting the Cygnus into orbit has led United Launch Alliance to postpone the next scheduled liftoff of its Atlas 5 rocket.

The good news is that the Atlas 5’s anomalous rocket engine performance on March 22 had no impact on Cygnus’ sendoff. The uncrewed capsule made its rendezvous right on time, and astronauts used the station’s robotic arm to bring it in for its berthing.

Over the next two months, crew members will unload Cygnus’ cargo – including a 3-D printer, a meteor-watching experiment and tons of more mundane items. Then they’ll fill it back up with trash and send it loose to burn up during atmospheric re-entry. During the descent, mission managers will use an experimental apparatus to set a fire inside the capsule and study how the flames spread.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Space station’s 3-D printer will churn out art

Image: Internet visualization
Majestic.com is working with Made In Space to have a 3-D visualization of global Internet connections turned into a plastic sculpture, using the 3-D printer that’s being sent to the International Space Station. The sculpture should look something like this. (Credit: Majestic)

The first objects to be created in orbit using the upgraded 3-D printer that’s on its way to the International Space Station are likely to be strictly utilitarian, but there’s fun stuff to come.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3-D printer designed for use in zero-G, was launched on Tuesday night along with more than 7,500 pounds’ worth of additional cargo aboard Orbital ATK’s uncrewed Cygnus cargo capsule. The bus-sized spacecraft, known as the S.S. Rick Husband, is due to rendezvous with the space station on Saturday.

This is actually the second 3-D printer to go into outer space. The first one was an experiment, built by a commercial venture called Made In Space.

This time around, Made In Space partnered with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to produce a more capable 3-D printer.  The main idea is to provide a way to fabricate plastic tools and spare parts by following computerized instructions that are sent up from the ground.

Get the full story on GeekWire.