Back in the 1970s, scientists first hypothesized that the moon was formed when another planet, now called Theia, collided with a young Earth, roughly 4.5 billion years ago. The problem with that theory, though, is that computer models indicated that the moon would then have the same composition as the other planet, but the Earth and the moon are very similar in composition. In 2012, scientists found a way to reconcile that discrepancy — if the Earth was rotating much faster than it is now, then a big chunk of Earth’s mantle broke off during the collision, slowing the Earth’s rotation down and explaining why the Earth and the moon are so similar. But now, there’s another explanation — researchers have found material from Theia in a lunar rock found by Apollo astronauts, and it turns out Theia’s composition isn’t so different from Earth’s.
I imagine that scientists spend a lot of time scratching their heads, stymied by some mystery or unexplained phenomenon. Of these scientists, I figure astronomers are particularly well acquainted with head scratching, as some deeply weird stuff goes on deep in the cosmos. In fact, astronomers just discovered one such unexplainable finding: a rocky planet twice as big as Earth and 17 times as large.
The Kepler 10 system contains two rocky planets, that we know of. One of them, Kepler-10c, has always been known to be bigger than Earth—2.3 times, to be precise. But astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CFA) were only recently able to calculate the planet’s mass. The original data collected by the good ol’ Kepler telescope indicated the planet’s size, but not its weight or composition, so astronomers used additional data from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS-North) instrument on the Canary Island’s Telescopio Nazionale Galileo. They were surprised by the result.
Soon there won’t be any cosmonauts on the ISS, but new residents will soon arrive, and while they might not be as helpful as cosmonauts, they may be cuddlier. Elon Musk calls them “mousetronauts,” and in August they’ll fly to the ISS on a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship to be part of a NASA study on the physiological effects of long-duration weightlessness.
The rodent research focuses on the physiological changes that occur when living for long periods in zero or microgravity. Even though astronauts exercise while on the ISS, they invariably lose muscle, immune system capabilities, and bone density, among other problems. Prolonged stays in microgravity also affect the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems, as well as genetic and molecular processes. Researchers believe that studying the mice will help them learn how and why these changes occur.
One small step for man, one giant leap for advertising.
In October of 2015, Japanese company Otsuka will send a titanium can of their beverage Pocari Sweat to the moon. There’s a little more to it than simply dumping a can on the lunar surface, though. Perhaps to temper the bad taste this campaign may leave in many mouths, the company is creating a time capsule that looks like one of their cans. This canister contains messages from kids all over Asia, engraved onto small metal disks that fit inside the container. According to Otsuka, the package “contains the children’s dreams.” Their tiny, tiny dreams. They’re even calling it the Dream Capsule. Oh, and of course there’s also a powdered form of Pocari Sweat.
Six weeks after NASA announced that it would be cutting ties with Russia, except for their collaboration on the ISS, Russia has gone a step further, saying that it plans to stop participating in the ISS after 2020.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, said that Russia will use its resources to focus on other projects. In the statement, he said, “We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicises everything.” He also mentioned “inappropriate” sanctions, including plans to deny the export of high-tech equipment to Russia. In turn, Russia says that while it is ready to deliver engines used to build widely-used Atlas V rockets, it will only do so on the “condition that they will not be used to launch military satellites.” Um…
Most people acknowledge that we need to find alternate sources of energy, given that peak oil is imminent and the Earth’s resources are finite. Nuclear energy has been advocated by environmentalists, scientists, and organizations who believe that despite the negative stigma, it might be the best alternative to the rapidly depleting fuels we currently rely on. While that may or may not be true, one can hardly blame Japan for seeking alternatives to nuclear energy. A number of sources report that the Fukishima disaster still isn’t really under control and may be leaking more radiation than ever, so Japan is directing its search for viable energy sources elsewhere — namely, space, where solar power is abundant.