Space Science News Sunday – open thread (video)

Time again folks for Science Sunday. Here are a whole bunch of quick hits from my browser tabs.

Space News

China’s Chang’e 3 probe has achieved lunar orbit. Later this month, it is expected to attempt to land a probe equipped with a separate small 6-wheel rover — named Yuto or ‘jade rabbit’ — to perform experiments on the moon’s surface.

Artist's depiction of China's Chang'e lander and Yutu mini-rover (photo: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering)

Artist’s depiction of China’s Chang’e lander and Yutu mini-rover (photo: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering)

NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars has logged its 100,000th laser blast. Able to vaporize rock and dirt from up to 30 feet away, the ChemLaser is used to analyze chemical content from the revealed light spectrographs. Curiosity’s ground team tweeted, “#PewPewPew I’ve fired my ChemCam laser 100,000+ times on Mars for SCIENCE!”

Sadly, Comet ISON appears definitely to be no more. In rounding the sun, it broke up and all that remained was a rapidly dissipating cloud of dust and vapor. Alas, no Christmas Comet this year. You’d think after the Comet Kohoutek fizzle-out in 1973, we’d have learned not to hype a comet before it’s actually worth hyping, but no.

Ceries - dwarf planet and asteroid (photo: Hubble Space Telescope)

Ceres – dwarf planet and asteroid (photo: Hubble Space Telescope)

NASA’s ion-engine powered Dawn probe continues on its way to Ceres, expected to arrive in 2015. Like the demoted Pluto, Ceres is considered one of our solar system’s “dwarf planets”. Orbiting the sun from within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Ceries has about 4% of the mass of our moon and about as much surface area as the nation of India. What’s especially intriguing is there are signs of both water and carbonates on Ceres’ surface — which could be critical for possible colonization efforts, should we humans ever develop the courage to leave our fragile nest.

Shimizu Corporation is thinking even bigger: Turn Earth’s moon into a solar power station. Because one side of the moon always faces the Earth, the only way to make it work 100% of the time would be to have solar panels on both the near and far side. Shimizu’s proposal would be to have self-replicating robots build a band around the entire 6800 mile circumference of the moon’s equator. Transmitters on the nearside would broadcast the energy (probably in the form of microwaves) at the Earth. To be sure, in addition to the obvious technical challenges, we’d have to think in terms of worldwide electricity transmission systems, rather than merely within a single nation’s borders. Shimizu estimates the full installation could supply around 13,000 Terawatts of power, constantly and steadily. By comparison, the entire power generating capacity of the United State is about 1 Terawatt.

Artist's conception of Shimizu's proposed lunar equatorial solar power belt. I've surmised the numbers are: 1 = solar panels; 2 = maglev tramline and power conduits; 3 = power transmitter; 4 = control station; 5 = maglev train; 6 = automated robotic solar panel maker (photo: Shimizu Corporation)

Artist’s conception of Shimizu’s proposed lunar equatorial solar power belt. I’ve surmised the numbers are: 1 = solar panels; 2 = maglev tramline and power conduits; 3 = power transmitter; 4 = control station; 5 = maglev train; 6 = automated robotic solar panel maker (photo: Shimizu Corporation)

Shimizu Corporation's proposed lunar belt solar power generating system. Not so sure I like the title 'Master Plan' though... (photo: Shimizu Corporation)

Shimizu Corporation’s proposed lunar belt solar power generating system. Not so sure I like the title ‘Master Plan’ though… (photo: Shimizu Corporation)

Earth News

Scientists believe they’ve identified the culprit behind the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan (and created the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster). Except when caused by fracking, most of the time earthquakes are the result of fault lines in our Earth’s crust. Where two plates rub against each other or one is pushing under another, there are quakes. When this happens at sea, as it did for the Tohoku quake in 2011, it can generate a tsunami. One remarkable detail is the slippage for this quake was an unprecedented 30 to 50 meters. (The largest previous one on record was off the coast of Chile in 1960, a slip of just 20 meters.)

So what caused this unexpectedly violent slip between two tectonic plates? It turns out that the fault itself is very thin–less than five meters thick in the area sampled. This makes it the thinnest plate boundary on Earth. In addition, clay deposits that fill the narrow fault are made of extremely fine sediment, which makes it extremely slippery. These traits in particular caused the massive slip that resulted in the major tsunami that devastated the region.

Medical News

Vaccine, vaccination, shot, health care, disease, bacteria, sick

Vaccine via Shutterstock

A vaccine used to prevent tuberculosis might also be effective in stopping (or at least slowing) multiple sclerosis, including for people just beginning to show the symptoms of MS. This could be a huge breakthrough in treatment.

No surprise: It costs more to eat healthy, which is why poor folks often have bad diets. One study determined the actual cost to be roughly $1.50 more a day to eat healthy meals than junk. Ironic, isn’t it, how knowledge like this comes on the heels of Congressional Republicans’ constant efforts to cut food stamps.

Dyslexia really is in the brain, and it appears to be due to a mis-wiring between the auditory and speech centers in the brain, the areas involved with language processing.

Tech News

amazon-droneRemember John’s post the other day about the Amazon drone delivery service? Researchers at ETH Zurich are working on algorithms that can enable a quadrocopter to continue flying after losing a rotor or engine. (They claim to be able to keep flying with ‘multiple’ failures, but I’m not seeing as how that’s possible unless it’s two rotors directly opposite each other across the midline of the craft.)

Just by using existing fiber optic cables differently, researchers at Swiss EPFL have found a way to transmit ten times the current usual bandwidth of data.

MIT Physicist Julian Sonner has come up with a theory to explain quantum entanglement: Wormholes. (QE is a behavior between two particles where if you do something to one of them, the other demonstrates a reaction, instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are. QE effects have been demonstrated many times in the laboratory and now the competition has been to see how far apart the two particles can be from one another and still work.) Sonner’s conjecture is entangled particles actually create a tiny, submicroscopic wormhole (or gravitational tunnel) between themselves.

And with that, I’ll close with today’s video. ‘This Week @ NASA’ — a round up of other space-related news.


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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19 Responses to “Space Science News Sunday – open thread (video)”

  1. pappyvet says:

    Interesting news from TED radio on NPR. Apparently the desire to “De-extinct some species is a hot item among in the scientific community. The passenger pigeon being up on the list as well as the wooly mammoth. I am intrigued as well as horrified.

  2. Tatts says:

    Yes, emjayay, someone has already done it–the USDA. They have developed 4 nutritionally balanced food plans–Thrifty, Low-cost, Moderate-cost, and Liberal–at 12 calorie levels (for 5 different age groups each of children, men, and women). And it is those USDA guidelines (and the cost of the items calculated monthly by the USDA) that guides the food stamp program benefits. It’s nothing new.
    It’s all on the USDA site with PDFs for all plans.

  3. Indigo says:

    Thanks for the Comet Lovejoy link. I’ll check it out in the morning.

  4. Indigo says:

    Wormholes as gravitational tunnels. Wow! That’s one for the sci-fi story tellers!

  5. Indigo says:

    Same here. I was up early and out the door, eager to watch the comet rise just after Mercury but no, the eastern horizon was socked in with clouds some mornings and fog other mornings. Ah, the Atlantic! If it isn’t fog, it’s clouds. When it’s clear, it is very very clear but it hasn’t been clear for over a month. Of course there are others to see, been there done that, but Ison was special.

  6. docsterx says:

    Power outage? Use a potato to restore power to your computer, charge your smart phone, light a room. Potato power developed to supply electricity to developing countries.

  7. Mr Ephemeris says:

    Don’t despair, there’s a lot to see in the sky with binoculars including three comets, if you know where to find them. Check out the Sky and Telescope or Astronomy magazines websites. Binoculars are the best way to view the Pleiades, or scan the summer Milky Way.

  8. emjayay says:

    While not engaged in really expensive stuff like sending humans to the moon, NASA is doing a lot of other amazing stuff currently.
    Oh, and go see Gravity in 3-D while you still can.

  9. emjayay says:

    Thanks. And yet it would be so easy to survey the diets of a bunch of people and go out and check prices of food from the bad diets and good diets. And a theoretical cheap and healthy diet. Or just make up two hypothetical diets and compare costs.
    In fact, hasn’t maybe someone somewhere done this?

  10. BeccaM says:

    I lived through the Kohoutek year, and although they did make the same disclaimers, it was almost an after thought. Like, they’d spend on the news 15 minutes hyping it, and for maybe 10 seconds say, “Or it might fizzle out.”

    In this case, for instance, we watch the Science channel a great deal. For the last three weeks they’ve been advertising their “Supercomet ISON” show, to be broadcast tonight I think. And even after the comet was all but confirmed destroyed — they’re still advertising it. It felt so familiar.

    But yes, I think the Ceres mission is critical. If I had to pick one place in or near to the outer solar system as a perfect base for operations, it’d be Ceres — especially if the carbon and water checks out. 2nd best would be one of the moons of Mars, although they’ve been more or less confirmed to be rocky bodies, hence not as useful in terms of available resources.

  11. BeccaM says:

    I know… sad. I was so hoping to use our new astronomy binocs to get a good view after it rounded the sun. As it was, we never did get to see it, even though I stayed up until dawn on four separate occasions — every time, we were socked in with eastern horizon clouds.

  12. Indigo says:

    Comet Ison, R.I.P.

  13. Tatts says:

    Okay, the health vs non-healthy diet cost is another example (so well described in a recent NY Times article) of Headline Science–the quick and inaccurate summarizing of complex issues. If you read the BMJ article you will find not that “One study determined the actual cost to be roughly $1.50 more a day to eat healthy meals than junk.”

    BMJ’s summary of that $1.50 difference that you (and lots of people) cite is: “…this price difference is for a relatively extreme contrast between the healthiest and least healthy diet pattern.” The “relatively extreme contrast” was between The Mediterranean Diet (which none of us in the US eat) and one rich in processed foods, meats and refined grains (a common US diet). The price difference in fish vs pork/beef/chicken alone could account for much of that difference. The $1.50 difference is the extreme, as the study says. And the study NEVER says that the cheaper diet is JUNK, as you claim. It also never claims that the lower cost diet is one eaten primarily by poor people–it’s a common US diet.

    On top of that, this was a meta-study (a summary of existing studies). But–only a few of those studies were conducted in the past 7 years. And of the 27 studies, 13 were done outside the US and 12 were simply market survey, not dietary studies. Further, some had only very limited data (18 foods from 2 stores in New Zealand, 8 foods from 75 stores in Orangeburg SC (including convenience stores), 2 food groups from 1 store, 20 foods from 42 stores in Arkansas and Vermont, etc). The dataset seems really, really deficient.

    I am NOT saying that the study is wrong, and far be it from me to second-guess these researchers). But I AM saying that a snarky summary of complex data and complex issues IS wrong–not just here, but always. And it has nothing to do with the diets effected by people getting food stamps.

  14. Monoceros Forth says:

    In space-related news, let us not forget that in the last few weeks India has launched a mission, the Mangalyaan mission, to place an orbiter around Mars:

    This and the Chinese effort are just reminders that, even as our nation sinks into decay, there are others all over the world who are ready to wade out into the cosmic ocean, to borrow Carl Sagan’s evocative phrase.

    Other news reminds us that even as Comet ISON disintegrates there is a fairly bright morning-sky comet to be seen, Comet Lovejoy: I think by the way that it’s a little unfair to compare ISON to Kohoutek. Every story I read about ISON took care to mention the possibility that it would be destroyed completely when it grazed the Sun.

    I’ve been interested for a couple years now in the exploration of Ceres. Not only is it highly likely to be a good source of water–its low density, if nothing else, indicates that much–it’s also got a fairly warm surface temperature for a body of its size, another hint perhaps that the dwarf planet is rich in water since water has a much higher specific heat capacity than most other materials.

  15. Drew2u says:

    “Sonner’s conjecture is entangled particles actually create a tiny, submicroscopic wormhole (or gravitational tunnel) between themselves.”

    When hearing about worries that the LHC could make a black hole instead of finding the Higgs-Boson, it was explained that the black hole would be minuscule and wink out of existence pretty quickly. Would there be any relation between submicroscopic wormholes and black holes?

    Also, I’m a big fan of the theory that the matter collected inside a black hole winks out of existence (passes through the foam/brane) and creates another universe in a free pocket of extradimensional space.

    A little closer to our universe:

    FLATOW: All right. I’m going to give you the SCIENCE FRIDAY blank check question. Everybody loves this question, and that is, if I gave you a blank check for as much money as you want to do what you’d like with it, to find the goals that you would like to have, how much would
    you need and what would you do with it?
    SEAGER: Well, I actually have a very precise answer for you.
    FLATOW: Oh, good.
    SEAGER: …for $3 billion we will nail this problem.
    FLATOW: Wow. That’s not a whole lot.
    SEAGER: I can’t guarantee that we’ll find life, but I know that we’ll find a bunch of Earths, just based on the Kepler results. And if life is ubiquitous, we’ll find some signs of it.

  16. Buford2k11 says:

    I wonder if China is going to declare a “no fly zone” on the moon now…they have shown a willingness to ummm, set up these “zones”…Ol’ Governor of the Moon Leroy Gingrich must have sold out…

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