January 22, 2016

When Will We Make Contact with Intelligent Aliens? (Source: Space.com)
"Are we alone?" is a pretty big question. But if the answer is "no," humanity may have to grapple with an even bigger issue — how to cope with crowds of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Over the last 20 years, astronomers have detected about 2,000 alien planets, and these discoveries suggest that potentially habitable worlds are common throughout the Milky Way galaxy (and likely throughout the universe as a whole). Click here. (1/21)

The Aliens Are Silent Because They're Dead (Source: Phys.org)
Life on other planets would likely be brief and become extinct very quickly, say astrobiologists. In research aiming to understand how life might develop, the scientists realized new life would commonly die out due to runaway heating or cooling on their fledgling planets.

"The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens," said Dr Aditya Chopra. "Early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive."
"Most early planetary environments are unstable. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable."

About four billion years ago Earth, Venus and Mars may have all been habitable. However, a billion years or so after formation, Venus turned into a hothouse and Mars froze into an icebox. Early microbial life on Venus and Mars, if there was any, failed to stabilise the rapidly changing environment, said co-author Associate Professor Charley Lineweaver from the ANU Planetary Science Institute. "Life on Earth probably played a leading role in stabilizing the planet's climate," he said. (1/21)

McCain Schedules Hearing on Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Space News)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, warned in December his committee would consider an “indefinite” ban on the Russian engine that powers United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. Now, a little more than one month later, the full committee will hold a hearing Jan. 27 on “military space programs and the use of Russian-made rocket engines.”

Deborah Lee James, the secretary of the Air Force, and Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition czar, are scheduled to testify as witnesses. (1/21)

Airspace Restriction Hints at Blue Origin Test Flight (Source: Space News)
Blue Origin may be preparing for another test flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle, based on an airspace restriction published by the Federal Aviation Administration Jan. 21. The temporary flight restriction notice covers a region of airspace that corresponds with Blue Origin’s test site north of Van Horn, Texas. The restriction, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Jan. 22 and 23, is for “space flight operations,” according to FAA. (1/21)

Air Force: Russian Rocket Body May Have Broken Up in Orbit (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force said Jan. 20 a Russian rocket body in geosynchronous orbit may have broken up and created at least 10 pieces of debris. The Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, tweeted Jan. 20 that it had identified a “possible breakup” of a Russian Breeze-M upper stage earlier in the day. In a follow-up tweet Jan. 21, the Air Force said further analysis showed the breakup may have occurred Jan. 15 around 10:50 p.m. California time. (1/21)

French Government Commissions Report on Rocket Reuse, Competitiveness (Source: Space News)
The French government on Jan. 20 asked former French space minister Genevieve Fioraso to assess SpaceX’s chances of making a business out of reusing rockets, and to explore how France’s space sector can better work with Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple on satellite constellations. In an assignment letter, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls asks Fioraso to present early results in mid-April and a full report by July 19, in time to be integrated into French government thinking in advance of a December conference of European space ministers. (1/21)

Dark 'Noodles' May Lurk in the Milky Way (Source: CSIRO)
Invisible structures shaped like noodles, lasagne sheets or hazelnuts could be floating around in our Galaxy radically challenging our understanding of gas conditions in the Milky Way. Dr Keith Bannister said the structures appear to be ‘lumps’ in the thin gas that lies between the stars in our Galaxy.

“They could radically change ideas about this interstellar gas, which is the Galaxy’s star recycling depot, housing material from old stars that will be refashioned into new ones,” Dr Bannister said. Dr Bannister and his colleagues described breakthrough observations of one of these ‘lumps’ that have allowed them to make the first estimate of its shape. (1/21)

The Truth About Asteroid Mining (Source: BBC)
As our Earth orbits lazily around the Sun, some 13,000 asteroids pass close by. Known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), these asteroids are more than just a heavenly curiosity; they are treasures. The resources contained within them mean they have the potential to provide untold riches, the future oil fields of space. The question is, would it be worth it? Some might ask whether it’s realistic to stage such a seemingly out-of-this-world plan. Those involved in the nascent asteroid mining industry, however, argue that there are a number of misconceptions about their efforts. Click here. (1/5)

Spaceport America Visitor Center Opens (Source: Spaceport America)
Spaceport America Experience visitors should be ready for an authentic experience they can’t get anywhere else! Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, was designed to make space travel as accessible to all as air travel is today – and to be a place where visitors can have a have a hands-on, fun experience inside a real commercial space launch facility. Click here. (1/21)

How Will a New Clock Keep Good Time Even in Deep Space? (Source: Gizmodo)
The Deep Space Atomic Clock is a project of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, a section dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. The clock is designed to maintain time to within a nanosecond over a ten-day span, minimizing how often the clocks need to resynchronize. This increases navigation precision, frees up spacecraft to navigate autonomously, and reduces dependency on the Deep Space Network. Click here. (1/21)

Are Gravitational Waves Being 'Redshifted' Away by the Cosmological Constant? (Source: Physics World)
The theoretical framework underlying gravitational waves may have to be revamped to account for dark energy and the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

That's the conclusion of researchers in the US, who say that while gravitational waves from nearby sources will be unaffected, next-generation detectors such as the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) and the Einstein Telescope – which aim to detect gravitational waves from billions of light-years away – may fall foul of the expansion of the universe. While such telescopes will still detect gravitational waves, the signal detected from more distant waves could be fairly different to what is currently expected, say the researchers. (1/21)

From Africa to the Stars: Why Ethiopia Needs a Space Program (Source: New Scientist)
A space programme is not a luxury, but a key to securing food, increasing the productivity of agriculture and developing scientific thinking. Space technology is important for many things: satellites, for instance, are used for environmental and water management, and soil assessment. We use them for disaster planning, to gather meteorological data and to improve communications. So a space programme is a key instrument for sustainable development. Click here. (1/20)

What’s Inside Saturn? (Source: New Scientist)
Beneath its colourful bands of cloud, Saturn is an enigma. We probably know more about the gas giant’s many moons than we do about the planet itself. And intriguing clues to its interior have only deepened the mystery. Gravitational fingerprints in the planet’s rings point to planet-wide tsunamis racing around the equator, and hint at surprising structures inside – giant whirlpools thousands of kilometers deep, a buried sphere of light or perhaps something even stranger. Click here. (1/21)

Russia’s New Vostochny Spaceport to Serve 10 Launches Annually by 2018-19 (Source: Tass)
The Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East is planned to serve some 10 launches each year, including the commercial ones and under the state federal program, starting in 2018 or 2019, Igor Komarov, the director general of the Russian state corporation Roscomos said on Thursday. (1/21)

Old Spaceplane Design with Finally Fly (Source: Guardian)
At nine meters long, and with a wingspan of nearly seven meters, the uncrewed Dream Chaser is a little larger than the US Air Force’s X-37B space plane. Dream Chaser has so far only completed one test flight, in 2013. It was deemed faultless until the final stage of the landing, when the left landing gear failed to open and the spaceplane veered off the runway. However, the damage incurred was mainly cosmetic.

The design is based on a Soviet spaceplane, known as BOR, that was first tested in 1969. In 1982, an Australian spy plane took an image of the BOR-4 test vehicle as it was being recovered from a splash down in the Indian Ocean. They shared the image with the US, where engineers recreated the shape and found the upswept wings made the vehicle highly stable. They have been interested in using the design ever since. (1/21)

UK Space Agency Discusses New Space Policy (Source: Via Satellite)
In December last year the United Kingdom released its first national space policy, outlining the country’s political approach to space. Already an advanced nation in the space domain, the U.K. aims to grow its portion of the global space industry to 10 percent by the year 2030, and reach 40 billion pounds ($56.6 billion) by the same date. Alice Bunn, director of policy at the UK Space Agency, describes the national space policy as a strong statement that the U.K. is serious about being in space. (1/20)

India, Kuwait to Cooperate in Space (Source: Business Standard)
The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was on Wednesday apprised of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Department of Space/Indian Space Research Organization (DOS/ISRO) and Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR) on cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

The MoU will enable pursuing potential interest areas in both cooperative and commercial mode such as use of data from Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites by KISR for initiating a few research and application projects; training; and building and launching of remote sensing and communication satellites on commercial terms. (1/20)

U.S. Lawmaker’s Plan to Combat Sexual Harassment by Scientists Could Get Complicated (Source: Science)
A trio of recent sexual harassment cases involving university scientists is drawing extensive attention from at least one lawmaker in Congress. In the wake of the cases, Representative Jackie Speier (D–CA) says she wants to strengthen a federal antidiscrimination law to help solve the problem. But it’s not clear how her proposed solution—still in the formative stage—would work, or whether it can be enacted into law.

Speier spurred headlines last week when she took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to reveal the lurid details of an investigation into sexual harassment by astronomer Timothy Slater, then at the University of Arizona in Tucson, more than a decade ago. Click here. (1/21)

How Astronomers Could Actually See 'Planet Nine' (Source: Space.com)
If Planet Nine really exists, astronomers have a pretty decent chance of spotting it. The evidence for the existence of this "Planet Nine" is indirect at the moment; computer models suggest a big, undiscovered world has shaped the strange orbits of multiple objects in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune. But direct evidence could come relatively soon, in the form of a telescope observation.

"It's actually not obscenely faint," said Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Brown and lead author Konstantin Batygin, also of Caltech, wrote the new paper laying out the evidence for the putative planet's existence.

"In fact, it's bright enough over a lot of its orbit that we should have seen it already, if it's in the closest approaches to the sun," Brown told Space.com. Indeed, at closest approach, "you could almost see it with some backyard telescopes," he added. (1/21)

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