January 18, 2016

I’m STILL Not Sayin’ Aliens, But This Star Is Really Weird (Source: Slate)
First, a little background: You’ve probably heard of the star KIC 8462852 (though maybe by it’s nickname, Tabby’s Star, after Tabetha Boyajian, the woman who led the team that’s studying it). It’s the star that got a lot of press late last year because it was acting funny. Astronomers poking through the observations of the star by the Kepler spacecraft found it was undergoing a series of apparently random dips in brightness.

Some of these dips were serious, with the amount of starlight dropping a staggering 22 percent. That’s a lot. It couldn’t be a planet passing in front of the star, because the dips weren’t periodic, and the amount of starlight blocked is different every time. Plus, even a planet as big as Jupiter (which is about as big as planets can get) would block less than one percent of the star’s light at best. Click here. (1/18)

Comets Can’t Explain Weird ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star After All (Source: New Scientist)
The weirdest star in the cosmos just got a lot weirder. And yes, it might be aliens. Known as KIC 8462852, or Tabby’s star, it has been baffling astronomers for the past few months after a team of researchers noticed its light seemed to be dipping in brightness in bizarre ways. Proposed explanations ranged from a cloud of comets to orbiting “alien megastructures”.

Now an analysis of historical observations reveals the star has been gradually dimming for over a century, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to the cause. (1/17)

Orbital ATK Successfully Tests 3-D Printed Hypersonic Engine Combustor (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK has successfully tested a 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA Langley Research Center. The combustor, produced through an additive manufacturing process known as powder bed fusion (PBF), was subjected to a variety of high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days, including one of the longest duration propulsion wind tunnel tests ever recorded for a unit of this kind.

Analysis confirms the unit met or exceeded all of the test requirements. One of the most challenging parts of the propulsion system, a scramjet combustor, houses and maintains stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment. The tests were, in part, to ensure that the PBF-produced part would be robust enough to meet mission objectives. (1/18)

Animal Brought Back to Life From 30-Year Deep Freeze (Source: C/Net)
Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Polar Research have resuscitated two tardigrades -- sometimes known as waterbears or moss piglets -- from a 30.5-year deep freeze. The researchers first collected two waterbears in 1983 from an Antarctican moss sample. They then stored them at minus-20 degrees C (roughly minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit). They defrosted them in 2014.

After defrosting, it took one of the waterbears 29 days to return to what the researchers described as a normal condition. The other died after 20 days. This isn't the first time waterbears have been revived from frozen. One experiment saw them brought back to life after nine years in deep freeze. (1/17)

NASA Official Battles Cancer, Pledges Continued Earth Science Work (Source: New York Times)
A former astronaut says he plans to continue working at NASA despite being diagnosed with cancer.  Piers Sellers, acting director of the Earth sciences division at NASA Goddard and a veteran of three shuttle flights, writes in a New York Times op-ed that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4, or the most severe, form of pancreatic cancer.

He writes that he plans to continue working given the importance of the research he leads studying climate change. "I concluded that all I really wanted to do was spend more time with the people I know and love, and get back to my office as quickly as possible." (1/17)

And Then There Were Three (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA awarded follow-on contracts for transporting cargo to and from the station to the two companies with existing contracts, plus one newcomer. Jeff Foust reports on the cargo contracts and the new life one contract offers to Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. Click here. (1/18)
NASA’s Journey to Mars and ESA’s Moon Village Enable Each Other (Source: Space Review)
As NASA pursues long-term plans to send humans to Mars, the leadership of ESA appears more interested in an international lunar base. A team of authors explain why the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Click here. (1/18)
China’s New Space Threat and the Justification of US Pre-Emptive Self-Defense (Source: Space Review)
New developments by China have raised concerns in the US about new anti-satellite capabilities. Brian Chow argues that the US should be prepared to take pre-emptive actions to protect its satellites in the event of a potential conflict. Click here. (1/18)
CubeSat Proximity Operations (Source: Space Review)
The increasing reliance by the American military on space assets brings with it increased vulnerability if those satellites are attacked. Michael Nayak describes how cubesats could pose a threat to those spacecraft, and how cubesats could also be part of the solution to deal with that threat. Click here. (1/18)

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