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Is A Manned Mars Mission Suicide? According To A UAE Fatwa, Yes.

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MarsMars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024, narrowed down a field of over 200,000 applicants to just over 1,000 at the end of last year. Those 1,000 applicants run the demographic gamut, from home country (applicants hail from 107 countries, including the US, India, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, and more) to education to age. And, one could assume, in terms of religion. Recently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (GAIAE), an organization within the United Arab Emirates whose mission is to enhance religious and social awareness, has urged Muslims not to participate in the Mars One mission.

GAIAE issued a fatwa, an official judgment on an issue concerning Islamic law, against Muslims traveling to Mars. GAIAE employs scholars whose job it is to tackle such issues and deliver a ruling, and they said, “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living.” That being their stance, a manned mission to Mars is akin to a suicide mission, and suicide violates Islamic principles.

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Our Moon May Not Be Able To Have Its Own Mini-Moon, But A Meteorite Recently Exploded On The Lunar Surface

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moonsWhen you realize that planets like Saturn have 60 moons, and Jupiter has 63, you have to wonder whether moons can have their own moons. Saturn’s satelite Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, so it’s not hard to imagine another rock circling it. Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, one of my favorite space publications, tackled this question, and has dashed my hopes of discovering an infinite series of moons. It turns out that a moon can’t have a moon—unless some specific stuff is going on, which we’ll talk about later. At least the reasons this can’t happen are interesting, and that makes everything okay.

Apparently, “moon” has no explicit definition. If you look it up, you’ll find references to Earth’s Moon, but no official definition about what moons are in general. I thought science had this stuff nailed down. Moons do have some consistent attributes, though: they’re whole, sold objects that orbit around a bigger body, probably a planet, probably orbiting a star. Whatever the moon orbits is orbiting something else, etc. Technically, the Moon does have a moon, or at least something distinct orbiting it: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling and photographing our Moon since 2009. But its lifespan is limited, and sheds light on why no moons in our Solar System can have their own satellites.

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ESA’s Cosmic Vision Includes New Planet-Hunting Mission

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PLATO

NASA likes to boast about its planet-hunting capabilities thanks to both the Kepler and the Hubble telescopes. But NASA’s not the only organization looking to identify new planets in the cosmos. The European Space Agency (ESA) conducts its own searches from across the pond, and they recently selected the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission to join its 10-year Cosmic Vision programme.

In broad terms, the Cosmic Vision programme strives to push the foundation it has built in space science into a more contemporary, forward-thinking realm by foreseeing and addressing the challenges of the future. The overarching goals of the programme include identifying scientific challenges, prioritizing space research, figuring how how to marshal resources to achieve the maximum return on investment, maintaining Europe’s competitive technological status, and reinforcing ESA’s ability to advance space science.

PLATO, a space-based observatory, addresses these goals by focusing on the conditions necessary for planetary formation (link?) as well as how the Solar System formed, functions, and compares to other systems. Its particular specialty is identify Sun-Earth analogue systems using 34 distinct telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets the same way Kepler does–by monitoring roughly a million stars and looking for the small but consistent reductions in brightness that signify a planet passing in front of them.

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Dying Stars Slosh Around When They Go Supernova

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cassiopeia-AAs Carl Sagan always said, “We’re made of star-stuff.” That’s because dying stars explode, expelling stardust — which scientists now know contains water in addition to carbon and other organic, life-promoting compounds — throughout the galaxy. In fact, some scientists believe that the universe may have been created when a massive, four-dimensional star went supernova, shedding its outer layers while its inner layers collapsed into a black hole. But supernovae remain somewhat elusive, especially when it comes to the details of the explosion. Until, that is, they are seen with a special telescope. A study published today in Nature by an international team of scientists provides new information about what happens inside a dying star.

Computer simulations have shown that stars won’t explode if they retain their perfectly round shape, so astronomers knew that something else had to be happening. They had some ideas about what that might be, but until now they haven’t been able to determine which, if any, were accurate. NASA’s NuSTAR (nuclear spectroscopic telescope array) telescope, housed at Caltec, enabled scientists to map radioactive material in the remnants of supernova Cassiopeia A. The telescope provided the first ever glimpse at the high-energy X-rays generated by a dying star.

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Big Ol’ Asteroid Will Zoom Past Earth Tonight, And You Can Watch

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AsteroidShort of watching disaster flicks such as Deep Impact and Armageddon, how often do we get the chance to see asteroids fly by? Given all the talk about asteroid protection and the knowledge that such cosmic rocks have the capability to do serious damage to Earth and the human race, most people probably don’t see asteroid-viewing as being on the same level as star-gazing, but tonight it will be.

Asteroid 2000 EM26, which, at a diameter of 885 feet, is roughly the size of three football fields, will fly by Earth tonight at about 27,000 mph. Don’t worry — it won’t hit the planet, but it will come close enough (almost nine times as far away as the moon) to provide a pretty cool view. The best part is that the Slooh Space Camera will watch the asteroid for us, and Slooh will air a webcast starting at 9:00 pm EST tonight (you can also watch on Space.com). So hey, you can watch the Olympics on one screen and an asteroid flyby on the other. There’s something apropos about that, don’t you think? Especially since some of those skeleton racers and skiers are going almost as fast as the asteroid.

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ISS Cold Atom Lab Will Be The Most Frigid Place In The Universe

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ISSThe ISS has its share of haters. There are many people who believe the station is a colossal waste of money (to the tune of $100 billion) and has never gotten down to the hard-core, life-changing proponents promised. Even so, Obama recently granted it four-year extension, so there is time to prove the skeptics wrong. One of the ways it might do that is with a new laboratory scheduled to become part of the repertoire in 2016 that will be the coldest known place in the universe. That may sound horrible, but it’s actually pretty awesome.

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory will be able to reach a temperature just one ten-billionth a degree warmer than zero Kelvin, or absolute zero (about -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest temperature possible. You think North Face makes a parka for that? Space itself has an average temperature of -454.81, which is roughly the average temperature in Boston this winter.