August 18, 2015

Irish Space Mission Cumar to Launch by End of 2016 (Source: Silicon Republic)
Susan McKenna-Lawlor – who has been involved with missions launched by the five main space agencies, and who is Professor Emeritus at Maynooth University – unveiled details of the Irish space mission she first mooted on stage at Inspirefest 2015. Most crucial was the announcement of the mission’s name, something McKenna-Lawlor said was being waited for with bated breath by people as far afield as Colorado.

The mission is to be called Cumar – the Irish word for confluence – because the project represents “a confluence of ideas, and a confluence of strengths and knowledge”. McKenna-Lawlor gave a tentative time period for launch, saying, “We hope that there would be an opportunity in the last few months of 2016.”

Cumar’s mission, she said, would be to gain new understanding of space weather. Negotiations are in progress to include in the spacecraft’s payload experiments from Chinese, Canadian, German, Japanese, Slovakian and British teams, each aiming to gain further insights into different aspects of space weather and its effect on society, the planet and technology. (8/17)

Earth-Like Alien World Could Have Vast Oceans (Source:
A small, rocky planet could host liquid water on its surface, if it also contains a carbon-dioxide atmosphere, researchers say. The planet, which scientists have dubbed Kepler-62f, has a diameter 40 percent larger than that of Earth, and could contain oceans of water if its atmosphere keeps the planet warm. (8/17)

New Study Finds Equatorial Regions Prone to Disruptive Space Weather (Source: Boston College)
Extreme space weather has long been seen as a threat to electrical grids in high-latitude regions of the northern and southern hemispheres. But a new study finds that smaller scale space weather events are amplified near the equator, putting power grids at risk in regions previously considered safe. (8/17)

Our Mars Colonization Plan Is Feasible, Mars One CEO Insists (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
When you start talking about big splashy space exploration plans—say sending the first humans to Mars on a private mission supported by a reality TV deal, eager (theoretical) billionaires, and burials in space—things can get surreal pretty fast.

So it was last week, when Bas Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One set out to debate two MIT aerospace engineers on what should have been a simple question: is the company’s plan to put humans on Mars feasible? By the end it was not at all clear how Mars One defines the word “plan” and why, after publicly admitting they won’t stick to the schedule they’ve outlined on their website, they’ve been so specific about timelines and budgets. (8/17)

NASA's Scott Kelly Urges Full Funding for Commercial Crew Ships (Source: CBS)
Astronaut Scott Kelly, 143 days into a planned 341-day stay aboard the International Space Station, urged lawmakers to restore full funding to NASA's commercial crew program to avoid expected launch delays and continued sole reliance on Russia for transportation to and from the International Space Station. Kelly said the commercial crew program "is very important to us" and while "I hope we'll get there with the current funding, I don't think we'll get there on the current schedule, obviously, or the schedule we would have liked." (8/17)

Enormous and Beautiful Red Sprite Seen From Space (Source: Discovery)
This gorgeous photo, captured from the International Space Station on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows an orbital view of thunderstorms over the city lights of southern Mexico as a recumbent Orion rises over Earth’s limb. But wait, there’s more: along the right edge of the picture a cluster of bright red and purple streamers can be seen rising above a blue-white flash of lightning: it’s an enormous red sprite caught on camera! Click here. (8/17)

Small Stars May Keep Planets in Line with Magnetic Harnesses (Source: New Scientist)
Magnetic harnesses may keep planets in line with their stars. Some exoplanets orbit at weird angles – instead of circling in the same direction in which their star spins, their paths are tilted, and they sometimes even orbit “backwards”. Oddly, these misalignments only seem to happen to stars more than 1.2 times the sun’s mass.

The mismatch seems to defy our understanding of how planets are born: if planets coalesce out of a disc that spins out like a pizza around a baby star, their orbits and the star’s spin should match up. Previous explanations for the mismatch include planets having close encounters with each other or other stars; interstellar gas falling onto a new solar system and warping the planet-forming disc; or the disc itself pushing and pulling its star into a weird angle.

Now Christopher Spalding of the California Institute of Technology argues a star’s size might be the key to the puzzle. Smaller stars have stronger magnetic fields than big stars. As a star’s solar system forms, its magnetic field grabs charged particles in the planet-forming disc and tries to pull the star back into the disc’s plane. “If you have a star misaligned with the disc, the magnetic field will tend to try and align the two,” Spalding says. (8/17)

Moon’s Gravity Could Govern Plant Movement Like the Tides (Source: New Scientist)
The movement of plant leaves may be partially governed by the gravitational pull of the moon, just like ocean tides. Some plants’ leaves rise and fall during the day-night cycle, mostly in reaction to light in their environment. But plants grown in the dark have similar cycles, which hints that something else – generally accepted to be a form of internal circadian clock – may be at work as well. (8/17)

Dark Energy Survey Finds More Celestial Neighbors (Source: Fermilab)
Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey, using one of the world’s most powerful digital cameras, have discovered eight more faint celestial objects hovering near our Milky Way galaxy. Signs indicate that they, like the objects found by the same team earlier this year, are likely dwarf satellite galaxies, the smallest and closest known form of galaxies.

Satellite galaxies are small celestial objects that orbit larger galaxies, such as our own Milky Way. Dwarf galaxies can be found with fewer than 1,000 stars, in contrast to the Milky Way, an average-size galaxy containing billions of stars. Scientists have predicted that larger galaxies are built from smaller galaxies, which are thought to be especially rich in dark matter, the substance that makes up about 25 percent of the total matter and energy in the universe. Dwarf satellite galaxies, therefore, are considered key to understanding dark matter and the process by which larger galaxies form. (8/17)

Local Contractor Lands Third NASA Launchpad Contract (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A construction company in Rockledge has landed yet a third contract for work on retooling a NASA launchpad to send people to Mars. That means the company, J. P. Donovan Construction, will start hiring more people immediately, said owner J.P. Donovan. “It’s definitely good news. We will be hiring for quality jobs, project management and engineers,” Donovan said. “We also hire welders and others for our fabrication shop.” (8/17)

NASA Just Tested the SLS Engine: What Else Has to Happen to Get to Mars? (Source: Houston Press)
Word of the successful test got us pondering what else it will take to actually make the classic sci-fi concept of people going to Mars into a reality. It turns out there are still a lot of steps. Right now, the plan is to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and to see astronauts on the red planet by the 2030s, according to goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. 

So what happens next? Well, since we've been to the moon and have astronauts currently working on the International Space Station, the next step is deep space, where NASA will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon. Then astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples.

This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities, according to the good folks at NASA, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, which they'll need to send cargo as part of human missions to Mars. Beginning in 2018, the SLS will enable these “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities. Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flow, according to NASA. Click here. (8/17)

9 Mindblowing Things NASA Has Already Discovered in 2015 (Source: Mic)
If you couldn't tell already, NASA is having a great year. One of our longest-running space missions finally passed Pluto after a 10-year mission. We've continued to find Earth-similar planets. Astronauts are eating food grown in outer space. Even in the face of budget cuts, the nation's space agency had some stellar highlights. Here are nine things we've already learned about space this year. Even better, we've got four months left to explore. Click here. (8/17)

NASA's Logo from the '70s was Ridiculously Cool (Source: WIRED)
In 1974, the new york studio of Danne & Blackburn took on a massive client. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (you might know it as NASA) was looking for a rebranding after 15 years of the “meatball,” their colloquial nickname for the circular blue logo which showcased “NASA” surrounded by a sprinkle of stars, a flying rocket ship and a bright red arrow.

Danne & Blackburn replaced the meatball with a modern logotype of “NASA” that was called—get this—the worm. Yes, the meatball was replaced with the worm. With heavy lettering and ‘A’s reminiscent of rocket nosecones, the new logotype was precise and futuristic. It was certainly a far cry from its slightly goofy precedent. It also, as Pentagram partner Michael Bierut pointed out to Display magazine, looked pretty damn good on the side of a spaceship. (8/17)

NASA Orders Two More ISS Cargo Missions From Orbital ATK (Source: Space News)
NASA ordered two more cargo deliveries to the International Space Station from Orbital ATK under a 2008 Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. Orbital ATK will fly two more missions under its 2008 contract for a total of 10 flights. The company designated the missions OA-9e and OA-10e.

The company has said it plans to launch any new CRS missions it gets from NASA on Antares once it completes two deliveries using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 launches are slated for December and early 2016 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (8/17)

If Pluto Keeps Spewing Nitrogen, Why Is It Still Full of It? (Source:
Something mysterious is happening on the surface of Pluto: No matter how much nitrogen the atmosphere releases into space, it's still chock-full of the stuff. New work examines the possible culprits for the stealthy nitrogen resupply, hinting at active geologic activity inside the dwarf planet.

Pluto's atmosphere has 10,000 times lower pressure than Earth's at the surface, and hundreds of tons of nitrogen are escaping every hour. Nevertheless, the atmosphere remains 98 percent nitrogen. Researchers are investigating potential sources of the nitrogen: whether it's riding in on comets, flying from impact craters or — what they think is most likely — a geological process pulling nitrogen up and out of Pluto's interior.

"More nitrogen has to come from somewhere to resupply both the nitrogen ice that is moving around Pluto's surface in seasonal cycles and the nitrogen that is escaping off the top of the atmosphere as the result of heating by ultraviolet light from the sun," Kelsi Singer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, said. (8/17)

Why Magnetars Should Freak You Out (Source:
I'll be honest: Magnetars freak me out. But to get to the "why," I have to explain the "what." Magnetars are a special kind of neutron star, and neutron stars are a special kind of dead star. Click here. (8/17)

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