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Science’s Plan To Save The Earth By Shifting Its Orbit

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Humans have always been fascinated by death. While the thought of our own mortality frightens us, for some reason we are still compelled by a morbid curiosity to slow down to gawk at a car wreck, knowing that the body under the tarp could be us on any given day. It’s no surprise, then, that we also find ourselves baking up doomsday scenarios that could mean the end not just for us as individuals, but for our entire species. For all our mighty accomplishments, the thought that it could all be ended by a wayward chunk of space rock is both humbling and scary. For three scientists, however, asteroids could in fact be used to save the Earth from the Sun’s inevitable decay into a massive red giant…by literally moving the entire planet out of the Sun’s expansion zone.

The plan is the brainchild of three researchers: Don Korycansky of the University of California-Santa Cruz, Gregory Laughlin of NASA, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan. It was actually hatched over a decade ago, and I’m kind of amazed I never heard about this one, because it’s what is known in technical circles as “a doozy.” The problem, of course, is that the Sun will eventually expand into a red giant, likely swallowing up the Earth in the process, or at the least charring it into a lifeless cinder. The plan involves the “gravity-assist technique,” sometimes also known as a “slingshot maneuver.” It’s the same technique that was used to allow craft such as the Voyager probes to explore our outer solar system. The idea is to capture a large asteroid and skim it past the Earth, close enough that our planet’s gravity slingshots it around and past us. If the object is large enough – say 62 miles across – its gravity will also pull on the Earth as it passes, slightly altering our planet’s orbit.

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Burritos In Spaaaaaaace!

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There are countless reasons for our species to pursue space exploration. Limited resources here on our home world. The scientific and technical advances that come from it. The ever-looming threat of extinction from war or plague or a wayward asteroid. Hell, even simply “because it’s there.” But the single most compelling reason to boldly go where no one has gone before? Zero-g burritos.

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Dusty Planetary Disc Vanishes From A Distant Solar System

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Spooky things happens all the time in astronomy. The universe is a big place with lots of stuff going on constantly, and all of the knowledge we have on it is based on long distance speculation. Sometimes things go as we predict and then sometimes, something so utterly bizarre happens that it makes astronomers do a double take. When astronomers found that a disc of dust had just vanished around a star on an alarmingly short time scale, it was double take time.

First imaged by NASA’s Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) in 1983, TYC 8241 2652 appeared to be a young sun-like star shrouded in a dusty disc. This disc was thought to be the same kind that formed planets in our own solar system. When a star forms it is usually surrounded with a large ring of left over material that was too dense to be blown away by its ignition. Through a long process, it is believed that the tug of gravity and the force of the stellar wind manages to form small planetesimals (baby planets) out of this left over material that then use their own gravity to pull in more and more stuff until they become fully formed planets. After a rough game of cosmic billiards where they either merge or are ejected from the solar system all together, you have what we now see as our modern solar system. So other than being an extremely young version of our own solar system, there was nothing exceptional about TYC 8241 2652, but when NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) looked at the star system again in 2010, it showed that the dust had vanished over two years ago. And no, it’s not supposed to work that way.

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Astrophysicists Have Found A Huge Filament of Dark Matter

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Scientists may not know what dark matter is, or where it comes from, but that doesn’t stop them from finding ways to image it. While some scientists still view the search for dark matter as nothing more than the latest fashionable physics snipe hunt, observational data continues to suggest that the invisible mass that supposedly glues our galaxies together is very much real. A group of astrophysicists hot on the trail of the mysterious substance have now managed to pick out a thread of the stuff bridging two distant galaxy clusters together.

Dark matter, as the name suggests, is hard to find. The only way to observe it is through gravitational lensing, an effect that happens when an object’s mass is so great that it distorts the light flowing around it like ripples on the surface of a pond. According to the LA Times, Joerg Dietrich and his team decided to look for the notoriously hard-to-spot stuff by searching for lensing around closely neighboring clusters of galaxies. The thought was that, because of the mass of the galaxies themselves, and their proximity to each other, it would be easier to spot any massive thread of dark matter connecting the two. When they turned their observations on a pair of galaxy clusters named Abel 222 and 223, they found that their hunch was correct.

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Rocket Porn: Delta IV Heavy Launches Secret Payload Into Orbit

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At 9:15 EDT this morning, the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral to carry a top secret spy satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. With the ability to carry over 28 thousand pounds to geosynchronous transfer orbit, the Delta IV Heavy has the largest payload capacity of the Delta IV family and has the largest payload capacity of any currently manufactured rockets. After a day long delay due to weather the launch was put on hold for another 3 hours after a voltage warning that came on during the vehicle’s switch to internal power just over 3 and a half minutes before launch.

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The Curiosity Rover’s Landing On Mars Will Be “Seven Minutes Of Terror”

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The Mars Science Laboratory, also dubbed Curiosity, was launched on November 26, 2011, and is scheduled to land in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. Its mission includes searching for signs of life — past or present — studying the climate and geology of the Martian surface, and otherwise collecting data. The trick is getting it to the surface in one piece, and as the below video from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory demonstrates, the EDL phase — entry, descent, and landing — will be a nerve-wracking process with zero margin for error. To make matters worse, the 14-minute lag in communications between Earth and Mars means that, by the time the Curiosity team receives word that the rover has begun to enter Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity will have already been safely on Martian soil for seven minutes…or destroyed for that same amount of time. There’s a reason the EDL phase has been nicknamed the “seven minutes of terror.”